1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
3 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.
4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
6 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.
Everything that requires action to some degree in one way or another involves faith. So that means that faith is about the most important thing in the world. Almost every second of every minute of every day of our lives, we exercise faith in some way. Without faith there could be no business because we have to trust one another in business affairs. Without faith there could be no marriage because marriage is built upon faith and trust in one another. Without faith there could be no friendship because friendship is a matter of mutual faith and trust. Without faith there could be no science and there could be no real education. Without faith most of the things that we know about and are involved in could not exist. Without faith there would be no exploration. One of the things that amazes me most about Columbus was not the fact that he sailed to America, but the fact that he had enough faith to try. Somebody said that when he left Spain he didn’t know where he was going, when he got here he didn’t know where he was, and when he got back he didn’t know where he had been. But he had enough faith to try, and I admire that most of all.
When you take a trip on a plane, you board the plane and you trust your life to a pilot whom you usually never see. You know nothing about his ability, but you are trusting yourself fully and completely to him. And in almost every realm of life we express and participate in this kind of faith. Is it surprising then to discover that faith is the foundation of our Christian experience? That’s what the writer of the book of Hebrews is saying to us in chapter 11 of this marvelous book.
In fact he begins talking about faith in chapter 10. He is pointing out that Jesus is superior to anything and everything that is mentioned in the Old Testament. That Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world, and that through his blood and through his sacrifice we can have acceptance and peace and access to God. And he closes out the 10th chapter of the book of Hebrews by saying to us, “The just shall live by faith.” Those of us who are the children of God become the children of God by faith and trust in Christ Jesus, and more than becoming the children of God we live day in and day out by faith and trust in him.
So faith is the foundation of our Christian experience. And having introduced the subject of faith, the writer then moves on in chapter 11 to enlarge upon the importance and the necessity of faith in our Christian experience.
There are basically two parts to the 11th chapter of Hebrews. The first is in verse one, and it is a definition of faith. Then having defined faith for us, the writer quickly moves on to illustrate faith in the lives of scores of people that these Christians would have known about, to show how faith behaves and acts in flesh and blood, and in everyday work clothes.
He begins by telling us what faith is. We would do well to pay attention to this definition of faith because it is the only time in the Bible when faith is ever defined for us. He says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And immediately you will notice as he talks about faith that it involves two things. Faith involves things hoped for in the future, and it involves things not seen.
We do not need faith for the past because that’s fact. We do not need faith for the present, because we can see that and we can experience that. But faith is necessary for the future, for things we hope to receive. We cannot touch them they are fact yet and so we must exercise faith concerning the future. We cannot see God. There is a vast unseen world around us, and we must have faith in order to know and to experience that unseen world.
When the writer talks about things hoped for, he is not talking about some idle dream or some desire that you may have. Rather he is talking about the hope that we have in God. He is talking about those marvelous promises that God has given us in his book from beginning to end. Those promises we hope to receive. Those experiences we hope to have. That power we hope comes to our life. When he talks about faith being the substance of things hoped for, he is talking about that hope which we have in God.
When he talks about things unseen he is talking primarily about God, but he is also talking about the whole realm of spiritual existence and reality beyond the five senses. There is a world that we can see, there are things that we can touch, there are sounds that we can hear, there is food that we can taste, and there are smells that we can smell. All around us there is a visible, physical world and we know that that is a reality. But beyond this world we see, touch, hear, smell, and feel, there is also a spiritual reality of which God is the primary part. We know that when he talks about things unseen, the writer is making reference to God because he tells us later on in this passage that Moses by faith forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible (verse 27). When the writer talks about faith in this context, he is talking about the promises of God that are yet to be fulfilled, and he is talking about the reality of God though we cannot see him. He says that faith is two things in relationship to the future and in relationship to God.
First, in relationship to the future, it is substance. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and that word substance literally means “a standing under.” It means “a foundation.” It means that our hope rests upon this. Gradually through the years that word substance came to mean “a confidence.” So faith is the confidence we have that the promises of God will come true.
The second word that he uses here is the word evidence. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. And the word evidence means “assurance or conviction.” He is telling me that faith is the confidence and the conviction in my heart that God does exist and that God will be true to his promises. It is that confident assurance that I have in the reality of God and the reliability of God.
And faith, as it is described here, is active. It is never passive. It means that I am so convinced and I have so much conviction about the reality and reliability of God that I am willing to step out and to do what God wants me to do.
You must understand that faith is never just a matter of the mind. There is an intellectual kind of faith where I believe in something like I believe in George Washington, but it never affects my life. It doesn’t change me, and it doesn’t move me. It doesn’t motivate me because it is just an intellectual faith. There is an emotional kind of faith that makes me feel something. But it is not strong enough to ever alter my conduct or to determine my actions. But the kind of faith that the writer is talking about here is so real, so powerful, and so strong that it convinces and convicts me of the reality and reliability of God in a way that affects the way I live and respond to him. Faith is believing in God and his promises so much that I obey God, I respond to God, and I do what God wants me to do. That’s real Christian faith.
The writer almost anticipated people saying, “If faith is the foundation of the Christian life, and if it involves believing in the reality and reliability of God so much that you do something about it, has there ever been anybody who lived by faith?” And the answer in this chapter is that there most certainly have been. He begins to tell us about a number of the people down through the years who have lived by faith, and he tells us about what faith did for them.
As we study what he has to say about faith in this passage of scripture we come to understand the necessity of faith in our own Christian experience today. There are three things that he says faith will help us to do that make faith necessary in our lives.
First of all, he says that by faith we understand how the world came into being. If we do not have faith, then we can never really understand the origin of all things. Second, he says that faith is necessary to be acceptable to God. Without faith it is impossible to please him and he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.
Without faith you cannot approach God. Faith is necessary to understand God, it is necessary to approach God, and then the writer suggests to us that faith is necessary to achieve what God wants us to achieve. If we do not have confidence in God and his promises, if we just judge everything by what we can see and touch and feel, then we will never achieve what God wants us to achieve. When you understand all that he is saying about those things than you know that the just have to live by faith.
Let’s look at these three things and see what the writer has to say about them.
1. By faith we understand. First of all, he tells us that without faith it is impossible to understand the origin of things. Verse three shows us that through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God. We learn that the things that are seen were not made of things that do appear. Through faith he says that we understand how the world came into being.
Now that word understand means “to perceive by intelligent reflections.” It doesn’t mean that we accept something blindly. It doesn’t mean that we are stumbling around in the dark. It means on the basis of using our intelligence and reflecting on what is happening in our world, and combining that with faith, then we know how things came into being. We know how this world (and that has reference to this universe in which we live) came into being. It came into being as a result of the word of God, the utterances of God, and the speaking of God. In the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and the earth brought forth living creatures. By faith we know how the world came into being.
And more than that we know that the things we see around us were made out of things that are not seen. That is to say that when God created, he created out of nothing. He did not take previously existing matter and reshape it and remold it into the universe. God started with nothing and from nothing he made something. We know that by faith. We cannot prove it. The Bible never tries to prove it. It simply says that when we begin to mix faith with intelligent reasoning, we realize that behind this universe of ours there is God.
There are a lot of misconceptions concerning faith today. One of them is that religious creeds are based upon faith, but other irreligious creeds are not based upon faith. That is to say that there are many people who believe that if you accept the Genesis story of creation, that is an act of faith. But if you accept the theory of evolution, that is not an act of faith. In reality it takes as much if not more faith to believe in the theory of evolution than it does to believe in the theory of creation. It takes as much, if not more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in God. Every man lives by faith so far as creation and the existence of things is concerned. For you see, a knowledge of this world and how it came into being is beyond human examination or experimentation, so it must always be an act of faith. No one was there when it took place except God. So, we can’t call forth an eyewitness to tell us how it happened. And we cannot reproduce the creation of the world in a laboratory. Hence it must ever and always be an act of faith. Whether you believe that it happened by evolution or whether you believe that it happened by the creative act of God, it is always an act of faith.
I read with great interest some time ago an article written by John Moore, professor who taught science at Michigan State University. He was pointing out this very fact that believing in evolution is an act of faith. And just as much so as believing that God created the heavens and the earth is an act of faith. For evolution is not a fact—it is a theory. That means that it is an assumption. It is an unproven idea, and once it is proven and established it will cease to be a theory and it will become a law. But at this point he said (and this is an outstanding scientist who taught at a state university) that all the theory of evolution is is a lot of circumstantial evidence joined with a great imagination. When you begin to study the origin of things from the evolutionist point of view, then you know that they involve a vast amount of imagination in their theories.
I read with great interest a newspaper article some time ago that told about a group of Harvard anthropologists who had found the fragments of human remains in Kenya, East Africa. They felt that these were the remains of the oldest known human being that they had ever found, and that he dates back to over five million years. The anthropologists believed that this discovery really helped to close the gap between modern man and his ancestor, the ape-man. They told us a great deal about that ancient man from the fragments that they found. They told us first of all that it was the skeleton of the remains of a woman, that she ate an abrasive diet, that there was probably a great deal of sand in what she had to eat, that she walked upright, that she had arms that functioned much as ours do, that her brain was somewhat smaller than modern man’s brain, and that this primitive woman had not yet learned to use tools. You might think from all of that that they must have found a large part of the remains of this person. But in reality, the article said all they found was a one and one-half inch by three-inch fragment of the jawbone of this ancient person. From that one and a half inch by three-inch fragment, they used a very vivid imagination and put together a wonderful story about how this person walked and how she looked and all the things that she did.
Behind evolution you will find that kind of vivid imagination. Circumstantial evidence, vivid imagination, and a concocted story about how it all came into being. But if you can join intelligent reasoning with faith, then you must know that behind this universe there is a God. Behind this universe there is bound to be a being of intelligence, power, order, and design. Otherwise we could not live in a universe of power, intelligence, order, and design. It takes that kind of being to create that kind of universe, and to believe otherwise takes a whole lot more faith than I have. Someone has said, “To believe that this universe came about as a result of an accident is to believe that the unabridged dictionary resulted from an explosion in a printing factory.” That takes a lot of faith. The writer of Hebrews doesn’t try to prove the reality of God. He doesn’t try to prove that God created all things. He just says that if you’ll use your brain and you’ll reflect on it, and you’ll mix that with believing in God, then you will know that behind this universe there is God. By faith we understand.
2. By faith we approach God. Second, he tells us that by faith we approach God. He talks to us about Abel, who worshipped God through faith. Abel brought a sacrifice and it was acceptable and he pleased God. He tells us about Enoch, who didn’t have to die. Enoch walked with God, and when it came time for him to die, instead of going through the death experience, God “translated” him. That means he transferred him from one place to another. God just picked Enoch up from this earth and took him on to heaven and he didn’t have to go through the death experience.
Having told us about two men who approached God by faith—Abel who approached God through worship, and Enoch who approached God through translation, or transfer—the writer then tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him (verse 6). He is saying to us that apart from faith there is no way for you to come to God. There is no way for you to do business with God. There is no way for you to have a vital relationship with God except through faith.
You must believe that God is, else you would never approach him. You must believe that God is reliable, else there could never be a relationship between the two of you. Let’s suppose that a person would say to me, “Paul, I like you. I want to be friends with you, but I just can’t trust you.” We could never have a relationship. Relationships depend upon mutual faith and trust, so if I do not trust God and if I do not think God is reliable, I cannot come to him.
I don’t approach God and become one of his children and have a relationship with him because of some good works that I do. I don’t earn my way. I don’t approach God and become right with him through religious activities like joining the church and getting baptized (as important as those experiences may be). But I come to a relationship with God when I believe in him and when I trust God enough that I take him at his word and I act upon it. Without faith I can never know God and I never can fellowship with God. It’s nothing mechanical. It is a personal relationship.
Let me tell you that there are not many ways to know God and to get in a right relationship with God. There are some people who’ll tell you that, but there is only one way to know and to approach God, and that is through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
There are some people who will tell you, “Well, you can get to Christ any way you want to.” That is just not true. You can come to Christ only by faith. Now there are many ways to faith. You can take the Methodist way, or the Presbyterian way, or the Baptist way, or the Lutheran way, or you can read the Bible on your own and discover God through faith. Somebody can witness to you, or you can go through some tragic experience and that can awaken you to faith and trust in Christ, but sooner or later, friend, you’ve got to have faith in Jesus Christ in order to reach God. There is no other way to approach him.
In this passage of scripture we find that without faith it is impossible to please God, and he that cometh to God must believe that God is. We must rely upon, adhere to, and trust in God or we can never be right with him. By faith we understand and by faith we approach.
3. By faith we achieve. Last of all, the writer says through faith we achieve, and the rest of the chapter has to do with that. He lists the achievements of people who believed in God and his promises. He recognizes the fantastic things they did because they saw beyond the world around them and they saw the unseen God. They knew about God’s promises, they believed that his promises were true, they acted in response to what they saw and what they believed, and they did marvelous and amazing things. I’m telling you that faith—real genuine faith, always achieves. It always does something.
In fact, the key to this whole chapter is action. It is about faith having such a dynamic effect upon the lives of people that they do things that were seemingly impossible or unreasonable. God spoke, and these people believed in God more than they believed in their circumstances. They saw beyond the problems and the present, and they saw the unseen God out in the future. Seeing God and believing in his power gave them the courage to try the impossible.
Take for example, Noah. God told him to build an ark, and the Bible says that by faith he did it. He must have had a lot of people saying, “You are a fool. This building project is too big for one man to undertake. And besides that, it hasn’t rained in a long time and nobody believes all of that wild story about judgment that is going to come.” And all Noah had to go on was the fact that he was convicted that God existed and that God had spoken concerning the future. Acting upon that belief, he built the ark.
Take the experience of Abraham, a rich wealthy businessman in Ur of Chaldees. God spoke to him and said, “Abraham, I want you to follow me into a land that I’m going to give to you.” And the Bible says that Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. God did not show him the end of the journey when he started out. God doesn’t always show us the very end of the road when we start following him. He just says, “Look, believe in me. Trust me and I will take care of you and I will guide you.” And if you’ve got enough faith to start on the journey, the end will come out okay.
The unbelieving world tries to weigh everything in the balances and say, “Hey, if you don’t know where you are going, then there is no point in starting out.” A man is a fool to leave the faith in the security of Ur of the Chaldees where all the action is and to go off following a God that he has never seen to a land that he has never yet identified.
But Abraham believed God and he moved out. I want you to know that when we believe God like we ought to, then we are set free to attempt the impossible and to do things that we never imagined we would do. We can attempt things that the world never dreamed of. And real genuine faith in God eventually boils down to responding with action. It requires actually doing something about the call and the command of God.
It boils down to something like the experience of Joe Coleman when he said, “By faith I will believe that God will provide for my needs.” This is what God wants to do, and by faith I will respond to do my part and I will trust God even though I can’t see the end any more than Noah or Abraham could see the end.
Let us believe in God to that degree. Let us be set free to try the impossible. I’m saying to you that we need this kind of faith in our lives—not right now only, but continually. Let us trust in the reliability of God to the extent that we will follow and obey him no matter what. Too many Christians are playing it too safe today. We are not trusting in God enough. And to that degree—to the limits of our faith, we are not seeing God work like he would like to work. God can never do a magnificent work in your life until you step out in faith. You can never achieve what God wants you to achieve individually nor can we as a church achieve great things until we have enough faith to take God at his word.
From beginning to end, the Christian life revolves around faith. Through faith I understand where the world came from. Through faith I will have a vital living relationship with God. And through faith I am able to do things that I otherwise could not possibly do. And what I want to say to God is not “Lord, increase my faith,” but “Lord, help me to use the faith I already have.”
What need is there to ask for more faith when I’m not using the little bit that I have? Besides that, it only takes a pinch. If you’ve got faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, there is no telling what you can do. If you believe God just a little bit, and if you will launch out in response to a little bit of his word, God will bless you and you’ll come to know him through experience. But if we continue to live only in the realm of that of that which we can see, touch, and know for certain, our lives will never be fulfilled.
There comes a time when if a man is going to achieve anything, he has got to step out on faith. The first step is to receive Christ as your Savior, and then to follow him in obedience from that day forward. There are some here today who need to take that beginning step of receiving Christ as Savior. Next comes stepping out, publicly acknowledging that faith, and following Christ in baptism.