Hebrews 11 has some of the richest passages on faith:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.(Hebrews 11:1-3).
When I first became a believer I thought that verse 1 was the definition of faith. I thought that this was how we define faith in following Jesus. What I learned is that this is not a definition of faith but a description of faith. This is what faith does when it is lived out.
You and I make decisions of faith every day. When you sit in your car you have faith that it will start and make it to your destination. When you filled out your direct deposit paperwork you had faith that your employer would get your money on time. Some of you eat at Taco Bell and have faith that it’s good for you body! You have more faith than me.
When we focus on Hebrews 11:1 there are two words that stick out on this description of faith. They are confidence and assurance.
I looked at some other Bible translations and we have very similar words:
"Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see." Hebrews 11:1 (NLT).“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV).
The ESV and NIV both use the word assurance while the NLT teaches us about the reality. We all know what it’s like to have confidence. Confidence we’re going to get the job, confidence the situation will work out, confident that we can run that yellow light. Faith isn’t only confidence. There is an assurance of what we don’t see. There is proof, verification, or evidence of the unseen things of God. God is visible, you just have to look for Him.
Sometimes it’s helpful to know what something isn’t so we can know what something is. Let’s quickly talk about four things that faith isn’t.
1) True Biblical faith is not blind optimism.
Some people think that faith is just being super super optimistic and ignoring the truth around us. I’m an eternal optimist but that is not faith, that is optimism.
2) Some people think that faith is a manufactured feeling of: hope so.
The key word here is manufactured. We are not manufacturing anything. Our hope has roots in Jesus Christ. Faith is also not a hope so but more of a know so based on what we read in Scripture. If you write down Genesis 15:6 you will read that Abraham trusted God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham didn’t have a hope so feeling. He trusted God.
3) Faith is not a steep intellectual ascent to understand all types of doctrine.
This would be a disciple of knowledge. You don’t have to know all the Christian doctrines to have faith in God. We do need confidence but usually when we have confidence we don’t know all the factors involved.
4) Faith isn’t belief without evidence.
If you look at the description of faith again, you will see that there is an assurance of what you see. That means there is evidence of God’s great work here on earth. If you read the entire Bible you will see evidence for your faith. I highly encourage you to read the Bible every day.
What then is faith, in Biblical terms? This is what the author has set out to teach the early church in this chapter of Hebrews.
So let me answer the question of what Biblical faith is:
“True Bible faith is confident obedience to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences.” -Warren Wiersbe.
I love this definition because it keeps the confidence that is required of faith but adds the obedience to God’s word. Many of you have a confidence in God’s word, that is why you’re here. Some of you are looking for strength in God’s word today. That is why you’re here. Obedience in spite of what we see, hear, or consequences involved.
* I'm very grateful for the Warren Wiersbe and his work on Hebrews. Much of this was adapted from his book.