A friend posed a question a couple of days ago as he had been invited to teach a group on the subject of “What is Faith?” By inviting me to his discussion he modeled wisdom for me by soliciting input from a brother in Christ to better inform his teaching. This is something we too often fail to do when approaching a teaching opportunity. I won’t go into all the psychology of that dynamic here, but suffice it to say that I was sufficiently impressed with his invitation, that I took time to respond with more than simply pointing him to Hebrews 11:1 which provides us with straightforward “go to” simple answer to the question.
My response was graciously well-received and I thought I would share it here for further discussion and feedback. It may serve you well to have a Bible nearby to look at the book of Hebrews chapters 10 and 11 as you think through these thoughts.
You posed the question, “what is faith?” as you told us about your teaching opportunity. That is a great question and I have no doubt you will lead the group well in discovering a vision for faith. While Hebrews 11:1 gives us a definition, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I think it is interesting that those translations make a conscious effort toward literal translation (KJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, etc.) all begin this verse with the word Now. Such a beginning of a definition draws us to what preceded this definition. I believe we must then go back to Hebrews 10:19 and begin reading the context for chapter 11.
I see some key phrases as I look at this passage. v19 – we have confidence, v22 – let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, v23 – let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Then beginning in verse 32, the writer calls the readers to remember how they responded to challenging life situations after they were enlightened. These days our culter sees enlightenment as wisdom to know that Scripture is not the Truth. But biblical enlightenment draws us to the work of Jesus in the shedding of His blood for our human sinful natures.
So, after being enlightened regarding the work and person of Christ, by faith, we have the power to overcome all manner of misfortune imposed on us by the world. We are able to endure being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners, or identified with those so treated. Believers joyfully accepted the plundering of their property because they knew that they had a better possession and an enduring one. As a result, we should not throw away our confidence (faith) which has a great reward. The writer closes this section by saying, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Without the chapter division that was arbitrarily inserted into the flow of the letter, that same thought carries on to say, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it (faith) the people of old received their commendation.” Chapter 11 moves forward to discuss faith in action by the heroes of the faith, Abraham, Moses, and others. True faith will draw us to live confidently with our confidence being placed squarely on the One True God. It is taking action with total confidence in God and taking God at His word.
So, I take from these passages that faith is the conviction that we serve a faithful god and that He will restore, to those who truly believe, a world as He originally designed it to be, a new heaven and a new earth, vastly different from the decaying and sinful world we occupy today. We have faith in that world which we cannot see today.
Some years ago, a friend asked me if I was certain there was a heaven. I said yes I was. He said can you prove it. I said that’s why we call it faith. We have faith in the word(s) and promises of our Creator, Savior, and Comforter (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
I am hoping that thoughts along these lines will open up the discussion. One of the shortcomings in our society is that we go to church and retreats and Bible studies hoping to hear answers. We are not often challenged to think through the reason(s) for our beliefs and our faith. We need to be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to make sure they were hearing the truth.
Peter challenged the church in his first letter thusly, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, ….” 1 Peter 3:14-15
Perhaps this will give others opportunity for meditating on God’s word.