God challenges me to deal with reality. God IS. God is God. The universe is real. It exists. It comes down to faith. I must believe even though I have evidence. There are things I don’t see.
How can I win God’s approval? It is always about faith. I must have it. That is clear. God is calling me to have radical faith. The good news is God has given me the Holy Spirit who gives me the power to believe.
Now faith is the reality [substance] of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.
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. | Hebrews 11:1-3 (CSB)
This is not a definition of faith, but a description of what faith does and how it works. True faith is not blind optimism or a manufactured “hope-so” feeling. Neither is it an intellectual assent to a doctrine. It is certainly not believing despite evidence! That would be superstition.
True faith is confident obedience to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. Read that last sentence again and let it soak into your mind and heart.
This faith operates quite simply. God speaks and we hear His Word. We trust His Word and act on it no matter what the circumstances 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.
The unsaved world does not understand true faith, probably because it sees so little faith in action in the church today. The cynical editor H.L. Mencken defined faith as “illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible.” The world fails to realize that faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word.
Three words in Hebrews 11:1–3 summarize what true Bible faith is: substance (reality), evidence (proof), and witness. The word translated “substance” means literally “to stand under, to support.” Faith is to a Christian what a foundation is to a house: it gives confidence and assurance that he will stand. So you might say, “Faith is the confidence of things hoped for.” When a believer has faith, it is God’s way of giving him confidence and assurance that what is promised will be experienced.
The word evidence simply means “conviction.” This is the inward conviction from God that what He has promised, He will perform. The presence of God-given faith in one’s heart is conviction enough that He will keep His Word.
Witness is an important word in Hebrews 11. It occurs not only in verse 2, but twice in verse 4, once in verse 5, and once in verse 39. The summary in Hebrews 12:1 calls this list of men and women “so great a cloud of witnesses.” They are witnesses to us because God witnessed to them. In each example cited, God gave witness to that person’s faith. This witness was His divine approval on their lives and ministries.
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that faith is a very practical thing, in spite of what unbelievers say. Faith enables us to understand what God does. Faith enables us to see what others cannot see. As a result, faith enables us to do what others cannot do! People laughed at these great men and women when they stepped out by faith, but God was with them and enabled them to succeed to His glory.
The best way to grow in faith is to walk with the faithful. The remainder of this chapter is devoted to a summary of the lives and labors of great men and women of faith found in the Old Testament. In each instance, you will find the same elements of faith:
- God spoke to them through His Word;
- their inner selves were stirred in different ways;
- they obeyed God;
- He bore witness about them.
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Heb 11:1–40). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 317–318). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.