“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the ‘Faith Chapter.’ In it we find a sort of roll-call of Faith, listing great heroes of the Bible who were able to do the impossible by Faith. It is important in this fact that none of these Faith-heroes ever perceived their actions as being impossible. Rather, each of them met obstacles with that same mustard seed of faith which Jesus Christ affirmed was enough to move a mountain (Matthew 17:20).
Our Hebrews text focuses on True Faith as it is defined in the Bible. As we take a closer look at this verse of Scripture, we need to bear in mind that those Faith-heroes experienced great things in their lives because they possessed this Faith; and that we too have the ability to experience the moving of mountains by this same Faith. It is important that we realize the same active Faith lies within us, as it did them; and by Faith we can accomplish the impossible.
Hebrews 11:1 begins: “Now faith is.” Someone once commented that this is not a ‘yesterday’ faith; nor is it a ‘tomorrow’ faith. But it is a ‘Now’ Faith. It is presently within us, giving us the ability to do the impossible, right now. Just as Scripture tells us that God’s Grace is sufficient for every need (2 Corinthians 12:9), so God has dealt to each of His children a measure of Faith (Romans 12:3) sufficient to the need of the trial we are confronted with at that very moment.
But what of those portions of Scripture that speak of Faith as something that grows, or increases; particularly that passage in which Jesus’ disciples asked for an increase in Faith (Luke 17:5-6)? Therein, Jesus reiterates that Faith is sufficient for the need. Faith does increase the more we come to rely on the Lord for the consequences of our obedience to Him; and with the increase of Faith comes larger mountains to move. But the necessary amount is always according to that which is possessed, right when it’s needed.
Our Hebrews text continues: “Now faith is.” This gives the clear understanding that True Faith is not just a concept or theory; but an active, living thing in our lives. So Faith is both a present possession, and is presently at work in our lives. Thus, for every moment of the saints’ lives, there is to be found the Faith necessary to overcome all of this world’s troubles (1 John 5:4). Faith is found to be at work in the midst thereof, providing us with the assurance of victory, as we trust in the Lord.
Hence, we see that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is very important, because it shows us that Faith is not the thing hoped for, neither is it the hope itself. “Hope,” as it pertains to the economy of Faith, is not a baseless desire or longing for a thing to be. Rather, Biblical “Hope maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5), because it is under-girded by the presence of Faith. Faith is the very substance of things hoped for.
This distinction is very important, because it teaches us that Faith is not belief; rather it is the “evidence,” or proof, upon which our belief is grounded. We believe (or have an expectancy) because we have Faith as an active, present possession. A Faith-based Hope provides such an assurance that prompts action on our part, because we expect God to act according to His promises. This means that the Faith to do the impossible is based on the Faithfulness of God, and creates the belief to do the impossible:
“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23)
If you can believe, you have Faith to move mountains. Since you can believe, you have the assurance of Faith as a present, active possession; whereby is proven that those same mountains must move. But we must know that this faith is not self-generated; many a sincere Christian has become discouraged after trying to name-and-claim a blessing. Neither is our belief a result of our thinking God will co-sign a miracle. Rather, True Faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 12:3), with its foundation being the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Did you catch that? True Faith is given to us by God according to the need. Much as Grace is sufficient to sustain us in every trial; Faith is sufficient to cause us to trust God in the same. The power to overcome is experienced through the exercise of Faith, but it is known by the effect of our ability to believe God and trust Him to move on our behalf (Hebrews 11:6). Thus we see that Faith, insofar as it has any genuine substance, is based on the Word God has spoken, and is guaranteed by God’s faithfulness to His Word.
Our text states that Faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” Obviously, “evidence” gives proof of a thing. But did you know that the Greek word for “evidence” here actually means the title deed? It is that bill, or document, that verifies ownership of a possession. Consider this for a moment: True Faith verifies our ownership of “things not seen.” And what is “not seen” with the physical eyes – but the riches of Christ’s Inheritance in the Saints (Ephesians 1:18)! Yes, all the riches of God, which are only perceived by the Born-again (John 3:3), are made sure to us by the title deed of Faith!
I often hear people ‘claim’ something ‘by faith’; and I struggle to understand what exactly they mean by such an unscriptural profession. It is evident that their ‘claim’ is a mere vocal assent; which does nothing to appropriate the things they ‘claim.’ Rather than empty words, I believe True Faith ‘claims’ a thing by the actual, physical laying hold thereof. Somewhere in all the ‘name it and claim it’ rhetoric, they forgot to act in Faith. And here we have the deficiency of that teaching.
We have seen that True Faith is based on God’s Word, being guaranteed by God’s faithfulness to so perform His Word. To act (or ‘claim’ something) in Faith, then indicates our reliance on God to do that which He said He would do; it entails our acting in obedience to God’s Word. How far is this concept from that being taught by the prosperity gospellors! They nullify the importance of believing God will do as He said, and substitute a belief that God will do as they say.
It is also instructive that the Bible never speaks of Jesus as doing anything ‘by faith.’ Did He not so live as an expression of obedience to the Divine Will? Of course He did. Jesus Christ so lived as an Example to us, that we should follow Him in a life of Faith – that is, obeying God’s Word, and trusting Him for the consequences of our obedience, knowing that He has purposed our good and His Glory (Romans 8:28). The problem is that the natural man is completely powerless to render a perfect obedience to God’s Word.
Thus, the Bible tells us that Christ Himself rendered a perfect obedience in our place (Romans 5:19); and that His Righteousness is imputed to us, or placed on our account, “by faith” (Romans 3:21-22). How does this appropriation of Righteousness occur “by Faith”? Well, it isn’t something we do, since all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Neither is it given to us because we believe in the Righteousness of Christ as our Justification. Rather we are Justified by Faith:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ…” (Galatians 2:16)
Notice here that faith in Christ is not mentioned, but rather “the faith of Christ” is that which Justified us in the sight of God. Remember that Faith is not belief, but the foundational proof upon which belief is based. Also note that Faith is a Gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
What then of our presently examined verse? This, and other proof texts, shows that Faith is not a thing, so much as it is a Person; and that Person, Scripture declares, is Jesus Christ.
What a wonderful truth this is! Christ indwelling the saint is that which causes one to believe the Promises of God; and believing God is a Rewarder of them that seek Him diligently (Hebrews 11:6), gives us the desire and the ability to do those things that are pleasing to Him (Philippians 2:13). Jesus Christ – even ‘the Faith’ – Justifies us in the sight of God, and applies to us the benefits of His perfect Righteousness on our behalf. All the Promises of God, as testified to in His Word, are secured to us by Faith – that is, by Christ.
Just as the Heroes of Faith were able to do the impossible, so too can we experience the mountain-moving Power of God in our lives. This we may do according to the work of Christ – the Faith – in us, accomplishing that which is pleasing in His sight. Through Christ, we can receive all the Promises of God, laying hold to the same, as we respond in obedience to His Word.
What is Faith? True Faith; that which grants the assurance of God’s Blessing; that which causes us to seek after the Lord’s Will as our Rule and Guide; that which draws us close to God, when our own sinful heart threatens to separate us; that which is born of God and freely given to us as His children; True, genuine, saving Faith is Christ in you – the proof of our eternal Hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27).