Faith and Hebrews

Have you ever been in a discussion when someone asked, “But what is faith?”  And then there was that long pause because you were all waiting for someone to quote Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Now, whether we call what we find in this verse a definition of faith or simply a description of faith we need to say, at the very least, that it is not an exhaustive description or definition.  And yet, it is a Biblical definition or description. 

So, let’s notice what we are told about faith in these verses.  And there are two things that are very important.  The first is that faith enables us to see the reality of our hope.  Now, we see that in the first part of v. 1, which says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Take a look at the word assurance.  When we think of assurance we think of an oath, pledge or confidence.  We think of something that provides us with certainty.  In other words, faith gives us the certainty that the thing we do not see but hope for is really there.  There is something objective about it, which is why some of the older translations render the word “substance.” 

Now, let’s stop for a minute to think about the believers who were thinking of deserting the church in Rome.  The author of Hebrews indicates that times were difficult.  Persecution was coming or had already arrived.  These people wanted to feel safe.  And for them that meant going back to Judaism.  Why?  Because there were real priests, a real temple, real sacrifices, incense and blood you could smell.  It was real!  It had substance! 

And so, the preacher says if you had eyes of faith you would be able to see the reality of the good things to come because of Christ.  If you are able to see, then instead of running away you ought to be celebrating now…at this very moment…the reality of future blessings, which you have in Christ.  So, what is real?  If we are in Christ our eyes of faith ought to be focused on Him that we might rest assured now…in this present moment…that what we hope for is as good as ours.  Now, that’s first, the hope of our faith sees an objective reality. 

But there is a second complimentary point.  Not only is faith certain of the objective content that we hope in but faith also furnishes us with evidence for realities as yet unseen.  Let me put it like this.  Not only does faith give us eyes to see the objective reality of future blessing but faith itself demonstrates the existence of the reality which cannot be viewed through our senses.  So, not only is faith forward looking; that is to say it has the ability to help us see future realities.  But faith proves the existence of these blessings. 

Listen to how J B Philips paraphrased this verse, “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.”  Philips got it.  Faith proves what we can, as yet, not see.  Paul had this very thing in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  How did Paul know that?  Because he not only had faith to see but faith itself furnished the evidence. 

Now, just stop and think about that a minute.  If the author of Hebrews is right, then simple faith would be enough to stop these people from deserting the church.  Why?  Because they could have seen and known that the things yet invisible are not less true and certainly not less real.  Let me ask you a question.  Is there something in this text that has made you cock your head in wonder?  Look again.  Do you see it?  Why in the midst of forty verses packed with biography is there a statement about creation in verse 3? Have you ever wondered about that? 

It’s there for a reason.  Why?  The preacher, who has been driving home the idea that faith helps us to see the unseen, is now telling us that what is seen (creation) ought to drive us to what is unseen!  Do you see that?  He is in essence saying, “Why is it so hard for you to see what is unseen when you live in the midst of a world that is in fact evidence for the unseen?”  I know, I know.  The scientist will not find our definition of faith compelling evidence for the lab.  But it is interesting to think that the lab and the Bible bring us to the omega point of the universe.  But the difference between the scientist and the Christian is palpable.  When the scientist arrives at the beginning point of the universe he merely shrugs his shoulders.  But the Christian worships because he sees the reality he has always seen with eyes of faith.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

Jeffrey Stivason