Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2)
All these people [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
Ask around and so many people say things like: “At least I have faith…” or “I have faith that things will get better…” But what do they mean? What is the substance of their faith?
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews defines the ancient understanding of faith: “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is a surety and certitude connected with an enduring hope related to unseen things.
But this is still a slightly broad and abstract definition. I could have a blind and confused certainty about something I cannot see. For example, I could have faith that I will win the lottery. It is a hope. I do not see the reality yet. But I believe! This is the sort of false faith upon which so much of the prosperity religion is founded these days.
But if this is not the faith we are after, what is it? The second reference from Hebrews gives us clarity. Launching out of the stories of Old Testament characters, the writer tells us that they “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.” We’ll stop here.
There was a promise given to them. By who? Clearly, the promise was given by God.
They heard the true promise of God and believed it. It was not some pie in the sky idea they had drummed up themselves, but something truly from God and which they knew they could base their lives upon. It became for them the most believable of realities.
They heard it, believed it, and then lived in light of it. The promise that they heard from God and in which they believed as ultimate reality became the center of their lives. If God – the Creator and Sustainer of all things – was the giver of the promise, they knew that their lives should be lived out from the promise given. He would create something new in their lives and He would sustain them in and through it.
Faith is something that marks our response as we hear God’s promise, believe it, and then live in light of it.