What Faith Is

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Hebrews 11:1-3

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb. 11:1)

Did you know the Bible has a “Hall of Fame”? People who are remembered there are not included for their great achievements, but for their great faith.

The Bible is a book both by and about God. He is author and main character, the one whose decisions and actions form the plot of the whole story and then carry it out. But the Bible is also a book about faith, our human response to God’s actions. The Bible defines faith for us; it describes faith to us. The Bible explains exactly what faith is, and why we need it, and how we can have it, and in whom we must place it. It illustrates what it means to live by faith with examples from the lives of real people who, even though they may have lived thousands of years ago, are still people just like us.

All of this teaching about faith is spread throughout the Bible, but there is a single chapter in the New Testament book of Hebrews which contains it all. Hebrews 11 offers a condensed version of almost everything the Bible has to say on the subject of faith. Here is the way it opens:

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see. It was for their faith that the people of old won God’s approval.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that the visible came forth from the invisible. (Hebrews 11:1-3, reb)

WHY FAITH MATTERS

The letter to the Hebrews was written, as its name implies, for Jewish Christians, that is, Jews in various communities throughout the ancient world who had recognized Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, put their trust in him as Savior, and given their lives to him as Lord.

These believers knew what it was like to give up the comfort and safety of old ways for the new way of the gospel. They had made the painful sacrifice of losing friends and family, of being rejected by their whole community, because they had embraced Jesus Christ by faith. That was not an easy thing to do

Nor was it easy to maintain. Real Christianity is always hard, and for these believers it was increasingly becoming dangerous as well, as they experienced first pressure, then harassment, then open persecution from community elders and government officials alike. So these Hebrew Christians were in exactly the same position as many Christians throughout the world are today – who have been converted from different religious traditions. There was a tremendous pressure upon them to return to the old faith. The book of Hebrews was written primarily to encourage them to resist that pressure and remain faithful to Christ. I think the writer of Hebrews would have approved of the song often attributed to a Hindu nobleman who came to Christ: “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.” He would have echoed the words of John in the book of Revelation: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”

The writer to the Hebrews does more than just call for Christians to be faithful to the Lord Jesus. He also shows why this is both right and important. Jesus, he says, is God’s last and best word to the world. He is the culmination of the whole of Old Testament history, religion, and doctrine. His life is the supreme revelation of the truth about God, and his death on the cross is the final, once-for-all, sufficient and necessary sacrifice for sins. So faith in Christ is the supreme necessity. “We are not of those who shrink back and so are lost,” says the writer at the end of chapter 10, “but among those who have faith and so are saved” (Heb. 10:39, nrsv). Having enduring faith in Jesus Christ spells the difference between being saved or lost, between life and death, between heaven and hell.

WHAT FAITH IS

Having established the critical importance of faith, the writer goes on in chapter 11 to explain just what faith is: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, rsv). Faith convinces us of realities we do not see. Faith is a way of knowing certain things, specifically, those things that cannot be seen. Faith is an assurance of the truth about the things we cannot personally verify in other ways.

Think for just a moment about how you know what you know. One way is through the use of your own senses. Is it raining outside? Well, go and see for yourself. This is the most direct way of knowing. Another way to know is through the use of reason. What is two plus two? You can figure that out for yourself. (Use your fingers if you have to.)

But let’s ask a more basic question. How do you know that your reason is trustworthy or that the evidence of your senses actually corresponds to reality? How do you know that you really know what you know? The answer to that is: only by faith.

It turns out that all the deepest issues in life involve things we cannot see or prove logically. The fact is, almost all the really important things can be known only by faith. All of us live by faith every day; it is so important to understand that.

No one can know about ultimate truth – the things we cannot see – except by faith. It’s not that backward and ignorant people (believers) have to operate by faith while the more intelligent (rational thinkers) can use another means of knowing. No. When it comes to fundamental truth, the basic questions of God and existence, questions about where we came from and where we’re going, our past as well as our future, then everybody, scientists, skeptics and saints alike, can only know by faith. The real question is: faith in what, or in whom?

When we exercise faith, what we’re actually doing is putting our trust in the truthfulness of someone’s word. For example, I know that in the southern hemisphere there is a large land mass called Australia. I know that by faith. I have no direct evidence of it because I have never been there or seen it for myself. Nor are reason and logic of any help in proving the existence of Australia to me, because logically, Australia is just as likely not to exist as to exist. But I know people who have been there and told me about it. And I accept their testimony as true. The most important thing with faith is to make sure you put your trust in somebody who knows what they’re talking about so that your faith has a reliable foundation.

What you have faith in is more important than simply having faith. Have you ever read the story about Chicken Little, the little barnyard bird who was hit on the head one day by an acorn? He jumped to the conclusion that the sky was falling, so he rounded up all his friends and they rushed off to warn the king of this impending calamity. Along the way they were gobbled up by a sly fox who did not share their credulity. That is a story about misplaced faith. The animals believed in what they could not see and they acted upon their belief. They even staked their lives on it, but their faith was groundless. It was based upon an unreliable authority. There are millions of people in our world like Chicken Little and his friends. Their faith is essentially wishful thinking. It’s the assumption that something is true because they happen to believe it.

But Biblical faith is different. Faith according to the Bible is not only belief or trust. It is belief in God and trust in his word. The example used by the writer of Hebrews is the creation of the world. Now that’s something we can’t see because it happened long ago in the past. The writer says, “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” Where did the universe come from? Some people think it came from nowhere and no one. But they believe that by faith, not because of logic or scientific proof, and their faith is based on nothing except the conviction that this must be so.

Christians believe something else by faith. We believe that the universe was created at the command of God, so that the visible world has its origin in the invisible power of a personal Creator. This faith of ours is based on the Bible, the written word of the same God who made everything from nothing. And because our faith is based on the word of the living God, we also know some other things that can’t be seen. These are the things that are unseen because they are still in the future, things that the writer to the Hebrews calls the “things hoped for”: things like tomorrow’s sunrise, my place in my Father’s house in heaven, the Lord’s return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead and to make all things new. Christian faith is sure of the truth of all these things too because it is based on the truthfulness of God’s very word.

WHAT FAITH DOES

It is also important to see what faith does; not only what it is but what it does for us. Faith helps us to understand and to know the truth about God and the world, but even more important, it also makes us acceptable to God. “This is what the ancients were commended for,” (v. 2, niv) says the writer. This is the means by which they won God’s approval.

The greatest lesson taught by the lives of all these Bible characters in Hebrews 11 is that faith is the one thing, the only thing, that commends us to God. We do not win God’s approval through our own achievements or accomplishments, but only by trusting in him. Faith gains God’s acceptance first because it glorifies him. Faith puts us in the proper position relative to God, magnifying and exalting him, and humbling us. You cannot have real faith and be proud at the same time because faith requires that we give all honor and credit to God.

Faith also gains God’s approval because it depends only on what he has done to save us and not on what we do to save ourselves. Faith looks to God’s work, not our own. Faith, in the imagery of the psalms, is a servant looking to his master, a maid to her mistress for grace. The truth is you cannot make yourself acceptable to God by any amount of good works or religious observance. No one was ever saved by being a good person. The Bible says people are justified by faith in Christ alone (Rom. 3:20-28). The only way to be commended by God, to gain his approval, is by putting your trust in Jesus Christ.

FAITH’S HALL OF FAME

Baseball is sometimes called America’s national pastime, and there’s a museum in Cooperstown, New York, called the Baseball Hall of Fame, built to honor the greatest players of the game. Hebrews 11 is a sort of Hall of Fame too, except the people listed here are honored not for any great achievements of their own but because of their faith.

What a list it is! There are famous and prominent people here and some who are almost totally unknown and others still who are not even named, but the most striking thing about this list is that anyone is eligible for inclusion. You may not ever do anything to make the world notice or remember you, but you can have faith in Jesus Christ. You can trust God and live for his glory. You can be part of Faith’s Hall of Fame.