1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 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. 9 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. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
“Faith” is one of those words that is part of church culture but also very much a part of secular culture as well. It is ubiquitous in inspirational media, religious or not, and it frequently shows up in the culture detached from any explicitly Christian moorings. One famous example would be George Michael’s 1987 song, “Faith,” with its catchy chorus:
‘Cause I gotta have faith
I gotta’ have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I got to have faith, faith, faith
That is a lot of faith, and, yet, that song quite clearly has nothing to do with the biblical idea. One might even say that our culture appears to have faith…in faith! And that is basically meaningless.
What is faith? And what is the proper object of faith? And why does it matter?
Faith is not a leap into the dark. It is a leap into the light.
It is often asserted that faith is a leap into the dark, a kind of desperate risk, a stepping into the chasm of inky unknowing with the fingers-crossed-hope that somebody or something will catch you. However, the scriptures speak of faith not as a leap into the dark but as a leap into the light. Consider the famous first verse of Hebrews 11.
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Whatever this is, it is not a teeth-clenched hurling of oneself into the utterly unknown. Rather, it is assurance. It is conviction.
Thomas Long observes that the “word translated ‘assurance’ in this verse, hypostasis, was used earlier to describe how the Son is the expression of God’s hypostasis, God’s “very being” (1:3). Donald Guthrie suggests that if the word hypostasis in 11:1 is understood in the same way as it is present in 1:3 it could “signify that faith gives reality to the things hoped for.”
A leap into the dark this most certainly is not! Yes, it is an embrace of that which is “not seen,” but the nature of that embrace is clearly more than a last second hail Mary pass into the end zone. It is hypostasis. It is the convictional grasping here and now of that which we have yet to literally see with our physical eyes.
It is interesting to see how different versions of the Bible grapple with what is being said in this verse. Consider the different ways that Hebrews 11:1 has been translated:
The writer to the Hebrews describes faith as follows: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (RSV); “Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see” (Phillips); “But faith forms a solid ground for what is hoped for, a conviction of unseen realities” (Berkeley); “Now faith is the title-deed to things hoped for; the putting to proof of things not seen” (Weymouth); “Now faith means we are confident of what we hope for, convinced of what we do not see” (Moffatt).
Listen to this language: assurance, conviction, substance, full confidence, certain, solid ground, the title-deed, putting to proof, confident, convinced. Douglas Farrow writes, “Faith, as the Hebrews text suggests, is a mode of knowing—an incomplete mode of knowing but not a lack of knowing.” I think that is well said.
When we call the world to faith in Christ we are calling them to step into the light and out of the shadows, not vice versa. We are calling the world to solidity and certainty and out of doubt and despair. We are calling the world to firm footing and away from shifting sand.
Long, again, points to a helpful statement from children’s literature.
In Saint-Exupéry’s classic story The Little Prince, a mysterious fox promises to tell a little boy the greatest of life’s secrets. When at long last the secret is told, it is this: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Yes! This is true! What is essential is invisible to the eye. Is this not so? Not only do we all place our confidence and assurance in that which we cannot see, but it could be argued that the most crucial things in life—the things that make life worth living—cannot be seen at all: love, truth, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness. Having faith in these things does not mean a fingers-crossed-hope. I have faith that my wife will love me tomorrow, but that faith is more solid to me than that 2+2 will equal 4 tomorrow.
I am deeply irked by Christians who say things like this: “When the time comes I am hoping that the man upstairs will let me in the pearly gates.” Come now! That is not the faith that drove the early church. That is not the faith that gave martyrs their courage! That is not faith, that is gambling.
No, put your faith in Jesus: assurance and conviction.
God commends and works where there is faith.
The bulk of this chapter consists of an amazing litany of examples of faithful men and women upon whom the favor of God rests. Verse 2 is a preface to this list.
2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.
These “people of old” received “commendation” by their faith. God commends the faithful and God works through the faithful! Faith is not a work that impresses God into giving awards. Rather faith itself is the gift of God that opens the door for God to work great works in and through our lives! Thus, by faith:
- Abel offered the better gift;
- Enoch was caught up to Heaven;
- Noah built the ark;
- Abraham left his home;
- Sarah conceived;
- Abraham offered Isaac;
- Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau;
- Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph;
- Jacob made mention of the Exodus;
- Moses was hidden as a baby;
- Moses stood with the people of God against Pharaoh;
- Israel crossed the Red Sea;
- The walls of Jericho fell down;
- Rahab welcomed the spies.
See the amazing works that God works through the faithful hearts of His people! God commends His people by using them mightily to change the world, as He did through those in this list. How beautiful!
And yet the opposite is also true. The lack of faith leads to an absence of God’s great work in our lives. Consider Matthew 13:
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Verse 58 is absolutely chilling: “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” It makes us wonder, does it not, when we go through barren stretches. We must be very careful here. Sometimes we can be very faithful and walking with the Lord and, for reasons that are hard to understand, find ourselves in a valley. So the absence of great works does not necessarily mean the absence of faith! It could be that God is doing a great work in our own lives during these times. And yet, can it be denied that the seeming lack of power in the American church can be attributed to a very real extent to our distractions, to our materialism, to our cultural compromises, and to our lack of faith?
This amazing list in Hebrews 11 is not intended to be closed. We are to strive to see our own names listed here as men and women of faith through whom God did great things! I ask you: do you have faith? Have you received by faith the commendation of God? Do you desire for God to work in and through your life? Is He doing so?
Where there is no faith in God there is no relationship with God.
In the midst of this list, this hall of faith, the writer of Hebrews makes a foundational statement about faith that grounds everything else that is said there.
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
In other words, without faith we cannot have any real relationship with God because faith is necessary for even believing that God exists at all! Our substitutes for faith will not do. An intellectual belief in God without faith will make you smarter but it will not bring you into relationship. An institutional relationship with God without faith will give you a church home but it will not give you a relationship. A vocational relationship with God will give you a paycheck but not a relationship.
Faith brings us into a relationship with God wherein we are given life and purpose and the favor of God. We cannot please God without faith because we cannot even know God without faith!
For this reason, we really must stop speaking of faith in static, momentary terms. “I put my faith in Jesus in 1970.” Well, that is good, of course, but what about living out of your active faith right now?! Consider how Paul speaks of faith in Galatians 2:
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Did you catch that? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…”
Can you say this of your faith, that you “live by faith”? Is it a daily reality in your life?
It could just be that the church prefers faith as a static, past-tense moment and not a living reality. Faith as a life is scary and it leads us to do strange things. I have seen Christian parents throw cold water on their children whenever their children get close to letting their faith actually touch their lives. I recall Francis Chan writing about the opposition he and his wife received from inside the church when, after returning from Africa, they decided to downsize their house and their cars and their lifestyle and give more to the poor. I know a man, a longtime deacon in another church and another state, who responded to his granddaughter’s news that she was going to the mission field with, “What a waste. You could have made so much money.”
Time and time again the church reveals that it does not know how to handle—indeed, that it feels genuinely threatened by—the life of faith. So we must make a choice: will we live the adventure of faith or be stymied in our effectiveness for the Kingdom.
There is no greater resting place for our faith than Jesus.
The chapter ends with a very important word about the object of our faith. First, it provides a powerful list of other examples of God working through the faith of His people.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
This is amazing! See again what God can do when we put our faith in Him! But then the writer of Hebrews makes a turn:
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
As amazing as those works of God were, none of these Old Testament saints saw in their day the ultimate end of the promise of God. Why? Because even though they had placed their faith in the Lord God and were saved thereby, none of them saw the coming of Jesus. They trusted in their Savior, true, but they did not know His name. But, the writer of Hebrews says, “God has provided something better for us.” The “us” there is the church and the “something better” there is King Jesus.
In Jesus, the ultimate goal and end has come.
In Jesus, faith finds its final safe harbor!
In Jesus, we are able to truly rest.
There is no greater resting place for our faith than Jesus.
Please hear me: have faith in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Enter into relationship with Jesus. Walk with Jesus. He will not let you down! He will not let you go!
 Long, Thomas G. Hebrews (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (p. 113). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Long, p.114.