What Is Faith?
What is faith? Depending on who answers the question, we are likely to get different answers. An existentialist might answer the question with a particular focus on the nature of faith, emphasizing the example of one’s sincerity in commitment with little regard to the content of their belief. While a secularist might approach the topic emphasizing the justifiability of one’s faith based on evidence. For them, religious beliefs are nothing more than a blind leap into the unknown, contrary to all discernable evidence. A Christian, on the other hand, will likely point to a passage like Hebrews 11:1, where the author argues that “. . . faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
But what is the author of Hebrews getting at in this verse? I would argue that the author of Hebrews is presenting much more than a definition of what faith is, but also offering a summary of what faith does. To understand this, the reader must frame Hebrews 11:1 within the context of the book as a whole. Before the reader reaches Hebrews 11:1, they must pass through Hebrews 10:19–39 where the saints are warned against shrinking back in the faith. In such cases of apostasy, one will fail to obtain the promises of God. This warning is contrasted in Hebrews 11:1–40 where faith is described as a persevering hope in the promises of God. By way of demonstration, the author offers a sweeping look at the actions of God’s people through redemptive history. There are a couple of notable observations in the text that help us understand faith from the perspective of Hebrews 11:1.
This 12-week study will help readers understand and appreciate how the book of Hebrews testifies to Christ’s supremacy through imagery, metaphor, and Old Testament analogy.
First, there are both subjective and objective aspects of faith. Subjectively, faith is convinced that what God promises will most certainly be fulfilled. Objectively, what is hoped for is grounded in (and guaranteed by) the object of one’s faith, namely, a faithful God. Therefore, faith is looking at God and trusting him for everything, while hope is looking at the future and trusting God for it. We’ve all heard it said, “seeing is believing.” However, for the Old Testament saints who were promised things that they did not see, faith can be defined as believing even when you do not yet fully see. Because they believed the promises of God and acted upon them, they were commended for their faith. For them, the reward of faith was one day seeing what they had always believed. This is important because in many ways, faith is related to the unseen realities of God. Consider how the author uses the words “assurance” and “conviction” in Hebrews 11:1 regarding the promises of God. First, faith is an assurance that what is hoped for will become a reality. Yet, faith is also the conviction that the unseen promises of God will be fulfilled.