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What Is Faith?

A Word for Today | Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11:1 is an oft-quoted definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  According to this verse, faith takes place when things are hoped for but not yet possessed.  Even when the present does not seem to contain the things for which we hope, we rest on God’s promise in assurance that His Word will be true.  Faith not only trusts God for these things but makes them real to us: it is “the conviction of things not seen.”  The writer of Hebrews means that the proof and conviction of things we have not yet possessed is our faith in God to provide them according to His Word. 

We may therefore think of faith in terms of what it does and what it is.  What faith does is make real to us things that are otherwise unreal to our experience; it presents to our hearts things that cannot be seen with our eyes.  John Calvin writes: “We are told of the resurrection of the blessed, but meantime we are involved in corruption; we are declared to be just, and sin dwells within us; we hear that we are blessed, but meantime we are overwhelmed by untold miseries; we are promised an abundance of good things, but we are often hungry and thirsty; … What would happen to us if we did not rely on our hope, and if our minds did not emerge above the world out of the midst of darkness through the shining Word of God and by His Spirit.”[1]  Where would we be in this world if we did not have faith!

If what faith does is make real to us things that are promised but not yet present, then what faith is is a present confidence that relies wholly on the truths of Scripture.  Noah believed there would be a flood with no other evidence than the Word of God.  That was faith.  Think of Abraham dwelling as a pilgrim long years on end, because he held his citizenship in the city to come.  Or think of Moses going down in worldly weakness to demand that Pharaoh release the tribes of Israel.  These believers show us authentic models of faith.  They display a confidence that translates into action despite all the contrary testimony of the world.   How vital it is that we exercise faith, and that we strengthen our faith with God’s Word.  What will faith do for us?  Faith will grasp the blessings of God’s salvation, will sustain us in times of difficulty, and will make us pleasing to God and useful to others.  Though we lose all else, may God sustain us in faith!  Prayer is faith speaking to God.  Christian labor is faith at work.  Faith is the root of all true Christian character.  Let us then, especially in these trying times, echo the plea of Christ’s disciples: “Lord, increase our faith!” (Lk. 17:5).

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Phillips

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 12:157-158.

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