May 14, 2013
What Is Faith?
To answer that question, most people immediately think of Heb 11:1 —
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
They conclude that faith means having an assurance and an inner conviction that God will fulfill all of His promises.
And that is absolutely true. That’s what Heb 11:1 teaches.
But I believe it’s also teaching something more.
One reason is because the Greek word translated “assurance” also has the meaning “substance,” or “reality” (like in Heb 1:3, where it’s translated “nature”). That’s why the King James Version translated this verse — “faith is the substance of things hoped for.”
This would mean faith gives us assurance by bringing us some of the substance of what we are hoping for.
So faith isn’t just believing that I will experience God someday. Faith does that. But faith can do more.
Faith can also bring me a taste of God’s substance, of God’s presence, here and now. And that taste gives me assurance that God is real, that He is all-satisfying, and that I should fully trust Him.
Here’s an illustration. Let’s say you are walking in the blazing hot sun in Death Valley, without any water. And you are thirsty. Really thirsty.
But then you come to a sign that says “Ice Cold Water, 1 Mile.” And you think — How can I be sure there will be water there?
And then you see a box below the sign, labeled — “Faith: The Substance Of Things Hoped For.”
So you open the box and inside you see a bottle of ice cold water, and a note: “Enjoy. And let this give you assurance that there’s lots more water just ahead.”
As we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will have times when God gives us a drink of His presence, His love, His glory — and that will give us assurance that all of God’s promises are true. So faith is the assurance of things hoped for, because by faith we experience the substance of the God we hope for.
Conviction Of Things Not Seen
But Heb 11:1 goes on to say that faith “is the conviction of things not seen.” That might just mean that faith is a conviction that the unseen God is real, is true, is all He says He is in God’s Word, and that we can completely trust Him.
I believe Heb 11:1 does mean that. But I think it also means something more.
The Greek word translated “conviction” can also mean “proof,” or “evidence.” That’s why the King James Version translated it — “faith is the evidence of things not seen.”
But that sounds strange. If God is there in heaven, and I can’t see Him, how can faith give me evidence of Him?
I was helped by reading the next verse. It starts with the word “for” which shows that it gives a reason for how faith gives us evidence of things not seen —
Faith … is the evidence of things not seen, for by it men of old received their commendation. (Heb 11:1-2)
When Old Testament saints had faith, God gave them a personal commendation that they were pleasing to Him, that they were forgiven by His mercy through the Messiah, and that they were counted righteous by faith alone.
And when you have faith in Christ, you will have times when you experience the same thing. God will commend you by pouring His love into your heart (Rom 5:4); giving you a fresh glimpse of His glory (2Cor 4:6); or filling you with His Spirit (Eph 5:18).
This will give you evidence that the unseen God is real, that Jesus is your glorious Savior, and that you have every reason to trust Him.
That’s how faith is the evidence of things not seen.
To check my interpretation, I thought I’d read what others have written about this verse.
So I looked at Matthew Henry, whose 1700’s commentary is still in print today. Here’s what he said about Heb 11:1 —
Faith … gives the soul a kind of possession of those things God has promised, it gives them a subsistence in the soul, by the first-fruits and foretastes of them; so that believers in the exercise of faith are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
So faith is not just a mental assurance and conviction that God’s promises are true. Faith can also give us an actual experience of the substance of those promises.
Then I looked at John Piper’s sermon on this verse. Here’s what he said —
Faith does not just feel confident that [God’s presence] is coming some day. Faith has spiritually laid hold of and perceived and tasted that it’s real. And this means that faith has the substance or the nature of what is hoped for in it. Faith’s enjoyment of the promise is a kind of substantial downpayment of the reality coming. (6/1/97 p.4)
So faith can actually lay hold of and perceive and taste God’s very presence.
Tasting Heaven Here On Earth
Then I remembered something I had read in David Brainerd’s journal. David Brainerd was a missionary to the American Indians in the 1740’s. Here’s what he experienced one Sunday evening —
Lord’s Day, August 15. Felt much comfort and devotedness to God this day. At night, it was refreshing to get alone with God and pour out my soul. Oh, who can conceive of the sweetness of communion with the blessed God, but those who have experience of it! Glory to God forever, that I may taste heaven below. (p.94)
Every Christian has faith that in heaven we will be infinitely satisfied in God. That kind of faith is crucial. But faith can do more. Faith can give us such communion with God that we taste heaven here below.
Nurture Your Faith
Faith does involve assurance and conviction that God will fulfill His promises in Christ. But faith can be more. Faith can lay hold of and perceive and taste God’s very presence in Christ.
So don’t settle for less.
Turn your heart from other satisfactions. Set your heart on God’s promises. Ask God to strengthen your faith in Christ. Pray earnestly over His promises.
Faith can bring the substance of the God we hope for — so we experience heaven on earth. And faith can bring evidence of the God we don’t see — as He commends us with outpourings of His love.
So open the box, take the bottle of water, and drink.
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- What Is Faith?
- Don’t Settle For Just Knowing The Truth — Feel The Truth (4-min video)
- How The Holy Spirit Guarantees Your Inheritance (4-min video)
- How To Fight the Fight Of Faith
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