Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bible’s Description of Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Tenth installment on faith)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

In the last post I defined faith as a God-given ability to see reality as God sees it. This is a loose paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1. The writer says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” The word substance is quite revealing. Unfortunately, some modern translations have declined to use the word substance and use assurance instead. It can be translated that way, but it can also mean more than assurance. The same word is used in Hebrews 1:3. There it is translated person, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The idea is Jesus is the visible reality of God’s person.

In fact, that is the origin of this Greek word we translate substance. The word had a historical meaning of “reality.” It usually referred to the reality behind appearances. Therefore, the word substance much more accurately suggests what the writer has in mind than does the word assurance. Substance indicates the essence or reality of something or someone.

Thus, faith is the substance, or the essence, or the reality of the thing you’re hoping for. It takes on the very quality of whatever you’re longing for. For example, I am sitting at my desk typing this blog on my keyboard. The desk is made of wood. Consequently, we can say the desk’s substance or essence is wood. According to our text, faith is the reality of the thing for which you are hopeful implanted into your spirit. God puts the spiritual reality of the thing you are expecting in your heart.

The author continues, “faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen.” Faith isn’t only the substance of the very reality that you’re hoping for, it’s also the evidence of that reality implanted in the believer. “Evidence” means “conviction.” This form of the word is used only twice in the New Testament. It comes from a root word that means to reprove or correct. The image of a prosecuting attorney is an excellent help here. If I am a prosecuting attorney and you are a juror, it is my responsibility to present irrefutable evidence that he who stands trial is guilty. My evidence should be so “convicting” that it should prove to you the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. That’s the idea behind this word “evidence.”

The writer of Hebrews is teaching that faith is the very evidence of things that we cannot see, and that they’re just as real as the things we can see. It’s the very argumentation, proof or conviction persuading you of the thing you trust God for. This proof or conviction is given to believers and is implanted in the heart. Because you have faith, you have the proof you will receive. This is what Jesus meant when He said in Mark 11:24, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Someone said that faith is a blind leap into the dark. But not according to the author of Hebrews. There is nothing blind or dark about it. God grants the believer the ability to see reality as He sees it by instilling that reality in his or her heart. He does not ask us to walk in presumption hoping that there is something solid to walk on. We may not always understand why He leads us the way He does, nor will we always know where He is leading. But faith lets us see the promise as God sees it. Faith is the reality and conviction of God’s promise in us. As Manley Beasly used to say, “Faith is not a leap into the dark; it’s a leap into the light.”

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