Faith: the Essential Substance
Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews is often referred to as the “faith” chapter, but we can also think of it as the “evidence” chapter. A familiar definition of the word faith is found in the first verse of that chapter. It reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The word substance suggests something substantial that undergirds faith. It is like the unseen foundation of a sturdy home. Faith also has evidence—something that proves its existence.
Evidence proves what we cannot see
There are things in the world around us that we cannot see, yet there is evidence they exist. For example, we cannot see the wind, but we know it exists because we can see the effects of it. Jesus used wind as an example when he spoke to Nicodemus about being born again in John 3:8.
We cannot see love, but we see evidence when love exists. Romans 5:8 tells of the evidence that proves the great love of God for mankind: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Though we cannot see God's love, we are beneficiaries of it so we believe it exists.
We are aware that hate exists because we see the evidence of it in the world around us. In fact, our legal system now defines what is a hate crime. However, the Biblical characterization of hate is more expansive than the legal definition. Evidence of hate is often found in the actions it produces, though hate can exist even when it is not seen because it is in the hearts and minds of sinners.
Evidence proves the existence of faith
While the faith that existed in the individuals listed in Hebrews 11 could not be seen with physical eyes, evidence in their lives proved that their faith existed.
Enoch set the standard. God’s Word records that when Enoch reached the age of sixty-five and became a father to Methuselah, he began to walk with God. His faith had a definite starting point. He had a testimony that he “pleased God,” and it became evident to all that he was a man of faith. It became even more apparent one day when he “was not found, because God had translated him” (Hebrews 11:5). He did not die; God took him from this world to be forever with Him.
We see the evidence of Noah’s faith in the fact that he built the Ark in preparation for an event that had never occurred before—a devastating, worldwide flood. More than that, there is no evidence that rain had occurred either. However, Noah labored for many decades at God’s command. The Ark became evidence of his faith that what God had declared would happen, would indeed happen.
We read of the faith of Abram before God changed his name to Abraham. It made no rational sense for Abram to uproot his family in Ur of the Chaldees and head for an unknown destination. However, God had called him to come out “into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance,” and Abram went. He had to leave all that was familiar, and set aside the doubts of those around him who likely would have suggested that it made no sense for him to do so. But he obeyed God, and that was evidence of his faith.
Verse 30 of Hebrews 11 describes the fall of the walls of Jericho. We have heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. No doubt there were some who watched the Children of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho day after day and found their action incomprehensible. For six days, the Israelites marched once a day around that city, trusting in the promise God had given Joshua that the walls of Jericho would come down. The walls did not come down on the first day, or the second, or the third, but they kept on marching. And on the seventh day, they marched around the walls not once or twice, but seven times! That was evidence of their faith, and their faith brought results—the walls came down.
Faith has a foundation
Just as evidence of faith was apparent in the lives of the individuals in Hebrews 11, evidence will be apparent in our lives as well when our trust is in God. The foundation of our faith is rooted in that defining moment when we come to God confessing and repenting of our sins. The evidence of salvation is the peace of God that comes over us, giving us the settled assurance that He has not only heard our prayer, but has answered.
We cannot see salvation with our physical eyes, but we experience it. We know that God has done a work in our hearts, and we have passed from death to life. That initial witness of salvation is our foundation, and further evidence will become apparent in our thoughts, words, and deeds as we continue to walk with God, just as it did in the lives of the heroes of God’s Word.
Faith overcomes doubt
Looking at chapter 10, the preceding chapter in the Book of Hebrews, we see that the new converts being addressed in this epistle had experienced doubts. Prior to Jesus’ ascension, He had promised to return to earth. These believers expected that to happen in their lifetime. They were anticipating His return and anxious for it to happen soon, but it did not. Jesus tarried, and before long, fierce persecution came their way. Verse 33 indicates that some became gazingstocks, while others were reproached and suffered afflictions. As a result, at times their faith wavered.
According to Hebrews 10:34, the writer himself had been in captivity, and perhaps was even then. Yet he encouraged those he was writing to by pointing out that although they had suffered and their goods had been plundered, they knew that in Heaven they had “a better and an enduring substance.” That substance was the undergirding of their hope and faith. He told them to look beyond the sufferings of their day to what was ahead.
We must do the same. No matter what comes in life, we must look to the outcome. While we anticipate the Rapture of the church, we look even beyond that event to eternal life in Heaven. Our faith in that great hope keeps us going, no matter what we face in this life.
The writer of Hebrews, presumed by some to be Paul, went on to encourage those early believers not to give up. He told them, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come” (Hebrews 10:35-37). “Hold on!” was what he was telling them. “I understand that you are in a warfare, and so am I. But the just shall live by faith! We are not of those who draw back. Keep holding on, keep pressing forward.”
Like them, we must hold onto the promises we have received, believe them, and patiently wait for their fulfillment. True faith withstands pressure. History has a long list of those who have suffered for their faith but persevered and triumphed. What existed within was substantial enough to help them withstand all kinds of challenges of life, and it will do the same for us.
Faith gives and receives
Faith is the means by which we give to God. Verse 4 of Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” He offered! We often think of faith as being what we need to receive from God. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a selfish endeavor. If we are serving God only to obtain the best things of life, we are going to be disappointed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted in giving. God gave His Son. We give God our hearts by faith. Abel offered God an excellent sacrifice, something his brother Cain was unwilling to do. Abel’s offering was evidence of his faith.
Hebrews 11:4 goes on to state that in response to Abel’s sacrifice, “he obtained witness that he was righteous.” He obtained! So, faith also is how we receive from God. We read in the sixth verse, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). A “reward” is something that is received. So by faith we give and by faith we receive.
Faith is not feeling or seeing
Faith is not feeling. Occasionally we hear a song that says, “I just feel like something good is about to happen.” Of course, it is pleasant to feel that something good is coming our way, but it really makes no difference whether we feel that way or just the opposite. Feelings and emotions fluctuate! We do not measure faith by how we feel—feelings should not be the barometer of our faith. Faith exists in spite of variables such as emotions and circumstances. In fact, it often thrives in situations that seem far from positive.
For example, consider the man Job. He suffered extreme adversity, far beyond what any of us will likely experience. He battled discouragement and had many questions, but in spite of Satan’s emotional, financial, and physical assault, Job looked to God and said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). That was evidence of his faith.
Faith is not seeing. Can you see what the rest of this day holds? Can you see what next month is going to be like? Can you project what next year will be? We do not know. Some people are optimists, so they anticipate good things. Some are pessimists, so their outlook is not so positive. Either way, we walk by faith and not by sight.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Therefore, when we deem conditions around us as unfavorable, we must remember that we walk by faith. We look beyond each unfavorable circumstance to something much more favorable--eternal life. That does not change.
We read in Hebrews 11:27 that by faith Moses “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” How do you see something that is invisible? Moses endured by looking through eyes of faith, and we must do the same.
Faith is not reasoning
In the Gospel of John, we read of Thomas, the disciple of Jesus who initially doubted when the other disciples told him they had seen the Lord. He said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). He was governed by logic and reason—he reasoned that those who have been crucified and put into a tomb are dead, and rising from the dead does not happen.
Well, it did happen! A week later, Jesus appeared before the disciples again, and this time, Thomas was present. Jesus told him, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). That was enough. Thomas’ faith took hold, and he just said, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
When people have doubts, it often is because they forget that faith is not reasoning. It is not an intellectual exercise whereby we can prove through some evidentiary formula that God exists, that Heaven is real, or that the Bible is true. Faith is a firm conviction that is based on who God is. It is something substantial that exists within.
We are among those who operate by faith rather than by depending upon human reasoning. We have that deep assurance and conviction that the record in God’s Word is reliable. For example, Hebrews 11:3 says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” We know that God created this earth and ordered the universe. We do not need to prove that to be true through man’s methods in order to believe, because we read that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). We look at God’s handiwork and we believe.
Romans 1:20 states that the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen. What a paradox—invisible, yet clearly seen! We have the evidence of the organized universe that NASA depends upon. We admire the scientists who can launch satellites into space and get them back, but more, we honor and worship the God who created the universe that functions so perfectly. Faith sees the invisible hand of God clearly.
Faith for a lifetime
Many people come to God when they are young, and then walk with Him throughout the remainder of their lives because they learn over time that their faith cannot be rooted in feelings, circumstances, or what they see or do not see. They learn to look beyond the temporal to the eternal, and within to that calm assurance that God gives. They have a purpose not to be among those who draw back or waver, but among those who believe to the saving of the soul.
Whether you are young or older, you are building a testimony—your testimony of faith is still under construction. You want to be among those who can point back to the day that they prayed and then were sustained by God through all kinds of events, good or bad.
You may feel at times that your faith is small, but God’s Word states, “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). We are also told that faith as a grain of mustard seed can move a mountain! So, do not minimize your faith. It is powerful! It has sustained you thus far since you believed, and it can sustain you through the days ahead into eternity.
If your faith is wavering or not what it should be, ask God to put something substantial in your heart that will undergird your faith. Then look to Him to give you the confidence to press forward, remembering that the power that created all that exists out of nothing is the same power that can take you through any circumstance of life.