The Definition of Faith

ishot_55Today’s Scripture: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

In 1893, an engineer by the name of George Ferris built a machine that bears his name—the Ferris wheel.  The machine was debuted that year as the landmark attraction for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  With a height of 264 feet, it was the largest attraction that had ever been opened to the public.  When it was finished, Mr. Ferris invited a newspaper reporter to accompany him and his wife for the very first ride.  It was a windy day, and a stiff breeze struck the wheel with great force as it slowly began its rotation.  Despite the wind, the wheel turned flawlessly.  After one revolution, Ferris called for the machine to be stopped so that he, his wife, and the reporter could step out.  In braving that one revolution on the windblown Ferris wheel, each occupant demonstrated genuine faith.  Mr. Ferris began with the scientific knowledge that the machine would work and that it would be safe.  Mrs. Ferris and the reporter believed the machine would work on the basis of what the inventor had said.  But knowledge wasn’t enough.  It was only after the ride could it be said of all three that they had personal faith that the machine worked.

So it is with faith in Jesus Christ.  Knowledge of the facts is not enough.  One must personally commit his life to Jesus Christ in total faith.  Such is the subject matter of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.  Hebrews 11 is what I call “God’s Hall of Faith” chapter. It deals with the subject of faith more extensively than any other chapter in the Bible.  We must keep in mind by way of context that the writer of Hebrews has just encouraged believers to endure difficulty and demonstrate an enduring faith.  Now, he gets specific in defining what true faith in Christ is and what it looks like.

First, faith is CONFIDENCE that God has promised.

The Bible says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”  The word for “faith” means moral persuasion; it speaks of a deep and abiding conviction and firm reliance upon truth.  Biblical faith is not blind, but rather is based upon the revealed truth of God in Scripture.

Augustine—“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

We cannot see God.  We cannot see the Lord Jesus.  What we know is what He has revealed to us about Himself.  Thus, we are to accept it by faith even though it may be contrary to the senses.  I read the story of how one night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof.  The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.”  He knew the boy had to jump to save his life.  All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness.  As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.”  But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.”  The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters!”  What the father asked the boy to do was contrary to his senses, but it was essential for his salvation.  That’s what faith is.  Faith is committing to God who we are, where we are, and what we have.  Faith is surrendering what is seen to Him, and then trusting Him for what is unseen.

Faith is the “substance” of things hoped for.  The word “substance” means confident assurance, or the most solid possible conviction that one can have about something.  This means that faith is the present essence of a future reality.  It is the firm ground upon which we stand while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Think of it this way.  When a child waits patiently for his father to take him to the game, he gets dressed in his favorite jersey, puts on his favorite ball cap, gets his glove ready—all because dad has PROMISED that when he gets home, he is taking his son to the game.  That’s child-like faith.  Such faith rests in the integrity of the one who promises.

Second, faith is CONVICTION that God will perform.

The second part of verse says that faith is, “the evidence of things not seen.”  Evidence means proof.  The writer of Hebrews is urging believers to not base their confidence in the things of this world, but in the invisible realities of God.  Our faith is the proof of the things that are not seen.  This doesn’t mean that faith is blind optimism or superstitiously believing something where there is a lack of evidence.  It is confident obedience to what has been revealed no matter the consequences.  How does this work?  Warren Wiersbe said, “God speaks, and we hear His Word.  We trust His Word and act on it no matter what the circumstance are or what the consequences may be.  The circumstances may be impossible, and the consequences frightening and unknown; but we obey God’s Word just the same and believe Him to do what is right and what is best.”

No matter what may be going on around us, ‘evidence’ is the inward conviction a believer has from God that what He has promised He will also perform.  This is what Peter explains:

1 Peter 1:7-9—“That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.  Though not you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

This means that in the life of one who possesses faith, there will be an outward response to their inward assurance.  Faith in Jesus manifests itself outwardly in love for and devotion to Jesus.  This means that the person who truly possesses faith will live out his or her belief.  Their life is committed to what they are convinced is true.

Biblical faith is confidence that God has promised, and it is conviction that what God has promised, God will also perform.

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