Abraham entered into the land which we now call Israel. He had never travelled to this place before – it was completely unknown to him. He had left his city of Ur to travel to this unknown land based on the faith he had in God and His promises. What does it mean to have faith?
Faith means that we are certain of things that we cannot see. In other words, we know something exists even though we cannot see it.
In relation to the Bible, we are told things which we cannot see. A person has faith if they believe there is a God, but cannot actually see Him. Faith also involves us being sure that future things prophesised in the Bible will take place. Faith is explained in the key verse for this article – Hebrews chapter 11 and verse 1.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
The words “substance” and “evidence”
The word “substance” comes from the Greek word “hupostasis” which means confidence or being confident. In this verse it is being certain that something you hope for will happen.
The word “evidence” comes from the Greek word “elegchos” which means proof, conviction or evidence. “Conviction” is when a person is sure that what he or she believes or says is true. In this verse they have not seen something but they are sure it exists.
The New Testament of the Bible was originally written in the Greek language but over time as been translated into English. As a result, there are various English translations of the Bible. The above quote comes from the New King James Version (NKJV).
Other versions of this verse translate the verse in this way:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. English Standard Version (ESV)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. New International Version (NIV)
Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see. Weymouth New Testament (WNT)
And what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see. (Substance: assurance.) New English Bible (N.E.B.)
Taking the meaning of the words “substance” and “evidence” and also the various translations of this verse we can see that the verse is saying that:
Faith is an attitude in our mind where the person has confidence that the good things that God has promised will happen. These things are “hoped for”, but as yet they are “not seen”. The things hoped for have not yet happened or revealed.
Faith – two aspects
There are two components to this statement made in the key verse we are considering:
- “things hoped for” refers to the future. It is something we have not seen or experienced now but will see in the future.
- “things not seen” can refer to things in the past, or at present or in the future.
Having faith in something can relate to a future event but it can also relate to something we cannot see in the present, or something which happened in the past.
Faith in things hoped for is where God says something will happen in the future and we believe that what He says is true. We have no doubt. An example would be where God says he will establish a kingdom in the future. In faith we believe that will happen.
Faith in things not seen is where we believe there is God. We have not seen God but we have no doubt that he exists. He existed in the past, he exists now and he will continue to exist in the future.
Faith and Trust go together. Primarily faith is trust in God’s word.
As we saw before, “conviction” is when a person is sure that what he or she believes is true. When the writer to the Hebrews wrote ”the evidence of things not seen” he meant the person having trust. If a person has trust it has the effect of accepting the invisible and recognising it to be real and in existence. If we have trust, we put confidence in what has been promised and know it will happen in the future. We cannot see it now, but we know we will see it in the future.
When the key verse we are considering says in the ESV version that there is an assurance of things that have been hoped for, it is describing this trust in God and what He Has promised. Put in another way, there is a confidence that things which have been hoped for will indeed happen. A person with Faith has looked at all the facts and decided they can trust what is being promised and now they live in hope for those promises to come to pass. We could say that Faith is intelligent trust.
Abraham – a man of faith
An example of this trust can be found in Abraham. Abraham was a man who lived a long time ago and is mentioned in the Bible. He loved God and was obedient to Him.
Abraham lived in a city called Ur. God told Abraham to leave the city.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1
He was told by God to leave Ur and travel to an unknown land. Abraham obeyed God and left his comfortable life to become a wanderer where he lived in tents. He eventually travelled to Canaan which is where modern day Israel is. He had never actually seen God, but he trusted God completely and therefore through faith travelled to this land that he did not know and had never seen.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
Abraham trusted God completely despite never having seen Him or seeing the land he was asked to travel to. He commenced a long journey which involved a break with his life in his home city. It was an upheaval in Abraham’s life, but he was motivated by faith in God’s blessing for himself and for all nations. He was looking forward to a city which was yet to be built because of his trust in God who had promised it to him. This city would be in the God’s kingdom yet to come to this earth.
Abraham believed God when He made promises to him – Abraham trusted God. Trust in God’s word has the result of producing confidence concerning the future, and a conviction concerning things not seen. Therefore, we can see that trust in the things not seen gives us assurance or confidence of things hoped for. This is what we call faith.
A living faith
In the remainder of Hebrews chapter 11, Paul gives examples of people who had shown great faith. We are told in verse 2 that it was pleasing to God when these people had such great faith:
For by it the people of old received their commendation.
The people of faith listed include: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and many others. It is well worth reading the whole of chapter 11.
Faith is not just hope for God’s kingdom and eternal life in the future – it is also a way of life. It is the quality of faith as seen in a person’s day to day living. This is made clear in Habakkuk chapter 2 and verse 4.
the just shall live by his faith.
Hebrews chapter 11 develops this idea. It is a chapter of works and not of belief. It shows us what God’s servants did by faith. The key word here is “by”. By faith Abraham left Ur, sojourned in the land of promise, and offered up his son Isaac. By faith Sarah conceived Isaac. By faith Noah… By Faith Enoch…. By faith Moses… and the list goes on.
All these people had a living faith. It was a faith by which they lived their lives. If we say we believe something but do not live a way of life consistent with that then we become hypocrites. Without the works which Abraham performed in his life such a travelling to a unknown country, there would have been no evidence that his belief was anything but an intellectual exercise. The same idea applies when Abraham offered up his son Isaac (Hebrews 11:17).
During our life, a living faith will work out into actions. In other words, decisions and actions in our life will be based on our faith. James chapter 2 and verse 20 to 22 expresses this idea well when referring to the faith of Abraham:
do you want to know,… that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
James summarises the point in verse 26:
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Things God wants you to know
God wants us to understand what faith is. Hebrews chapter 11 and verse 1 tells us what faith is. Faith is where the person has confidence that the things that God has promised will happen. These things are “hoped for”, but as yet they are “not seen”. The “things hoped for” refers to the future. It something we have not seen or experienced now but will see in the future. The “things not seen” can refer to things in the past, or at present or in the future. God has always existed in the past, present and the future – yet we have not seen him.
In order for us to please God, He wants us to know that we must have faith in Him. We must believe that He exists. When we have that faith, it must be a living faith which is reflected in our way of life. The decisions and actions which we take in life are based on that faith which we hold.