What is Faith?
No better answer is given in perhaps all the Bible than in the great eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews. Here a history is unfolded, depicting great examples of faith from the record of Old Testament heroes.
Hebrews 11 is a spiritual walkway adorned by the weaving of God’s living Word; depicting faith as the key virtue by which God has made His kingdom great. Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Heroes.” But the true hero of this chapter is God who gives faith to His own, by which the smallest of men and women have done great things in His strength.
Hebrews 11 shows that faith is so important because God’s people are beset with weakness, poverty, and difficulty. This is why verse one tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The context for faith is a life in which things are hoped for, but not yet seen or possessed. Faith grasps things that are promised by God but are so far unfulfilled in our experience. We hope for power during weakness; we hope for peace during conflict; and for joy in the presence of sorrow. For all these reasons, God’s people require faith to persevere in a difficult world.
Then what is faith? Faith is believing God’s Word to lay hold of things that are promised and make them real in our lives. Faith is the mode, or how we possess heavenly things on earth. The point is not that faith creates the things we hope for; this is the false teaching of many today who use this verse to ascribe creative power to our faith. Instead, faith receives from God the blessings He gives. God gives forgiveness, peace, and spiritual provision. He promises a “city with foundations,” in which we will live forever (Heb. 11:10). Faith is the evidence of these things in our lives, the conviction that draws strength from them to follow God.
Hebrews 11 tells what God’s people did by faith. The thing to notice about these heroes is not their personality traits; their training; or their upbringing. We are not told that Abraham was a resourceful kind of person; or that his personality made him suited for disappointment. The only thing that made him different from others was his faith; and by his faith what a difference he made for the whole world.
How did a man like Moses turn his back in the prime of his life; on the pinnacle of worldly power, and pleasure, and riches? It wasn’t because Moses was such a moral person. He did it by faith! Without faith, none of these heroes of Hebrews 11 would have lived for God in the ways they did. But by faith, they lived with a power the world knows nothing about and gained a salvation the world has ignored. Because of their faith, verse 16 says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
Faith can do great things in anyone’s life. If you live by faith in God, no matter who you are, and whatever else is true of you, you can make a difference for God’s kingdom. What really matters is not your strengths or weaknesses; your training or lack thereof. By faith you can be a spiritual hero.
Why? Is it because of some power inherent to faith, or because faith will unleash your hidden potential? Not at all. Faith can do great things through you, verse six tells us, because God “rewards those who seek him.” Faith gains its power from its object, the saving God who gives grace to those who trust in Him.