What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. - Vs 1 (NLT)
What is faith? That's a great question. Is it something we muster up or is it, like salvation, a gift from God? For years I have heard this passage referred to as the "Great Hall of Faith." In it we have chronicled the great feats of faith of such icons of the Old Testament as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Verse after verse tells us that these men and women accomplished certain things in their lives "by faith." Abraham offered up his son Isaac as a potential sacrifice "by faith." "By faith" Noah built a boat big enough to hold two of every kind of living thing, plus his family – when there wasn't a body of water big enough to float it anywhere nearby. We read of Jacob's faith, Sarah's faith, Isaac's faith, Joseph's faith, even Rahab's faith (a woman referred to as a harlot). Over the years this chapter has become a source of inspiration and irritation for me. It has been used by pastors in an attempt to inspire me to greater feats of faith. To muster up the kind of faith that Abraham and Moses had. It has been used as a measuring rod to determine the amount of my own faith as compared to that of these members of the great hall of faith. Which is why this chapter has also irritated me. I have found it defeating and deflating to look at the lives of these individuals and try to compare my meager faith with theirs. I just never seem to measure up. I ask myself what I would have done if God had asked me to sacrifice one of my sons on an altar. I just don't think I would have had the faith to pull it off. If God had asked me to build a boat in my backyard in order to save the world from a flood, would I have had the faith to pull it off? Probably not. So I just don't measure up.
But I think I've missed the point. This isn't a celebration of these people's faith. This isn't about their ability to conjure up just the right amount of faith so that they could be recognized and rewarded for it. This is about God producing faith in us, in spite of us. The very fact that we have faith is evidence of God's work in us. Faith is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. The New American Standard Bible translates verse 1 this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That word conviction means "proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested." Faith is proof of the unseen things of God. The very fact that we have faith is a gift from God. We can't manufacture it or conjure it up. We can't try to have more of it. As I read through these verses, it hits me that I could replace the word "faith" with the name of God and it all begins to make more sense.
"By God Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance…"
"By God Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark…"
"By God he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king…"
These people were able to do what they did because of God, not because of themselves. Their faith was proof or evidence of God's work in their lives. He was orchestrating things behind the scenes that they weren't even aware of. It was God who gave Joseph the faith to believe that the people of Israel would some day return to their land. So he asked his family to return his bones there when it happened. The faith of every one of these individuals was future-oriented. It was based on things yet to come. We are told that "all these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance" (Vs 13). Their confident assurance was in things they hoped were going to happen. Isaac and Jacob both blessed their sons, hoping and trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill the blessing. Rahab helped rescue the spies, at great risk of her life, hoping and trusting in God's faithfulness to rescue and protect her. The very fact that we have faith is the evidence of things we cannot see. It is the proof that those things really do exist. God has given us the faith to believe in them. He has given us the faith to believe in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. He has given us the faith to believe in a future kingdom and our place in it. He has given us a faith to endure the trials and tribulations of this life because we know He has given us eternal life. Faith is a gift from God.
Nothing supports this more than verses 33-40. Here we see a list of nameless individuals – some of whom accomplished great deeds. They conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, shut the mouths of lions, from weakness were strong, became mighty in war, etc. It is by faith they were able to do these things. But who gave them the faith to do so? God. Others didn't fare so well. They were mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death, afflicted, ill-treated, and destitute. But they are noted for having had faith. They endured what they did because of faith. They had hope in something yet to come. "Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised" (Vs 39, NLT).
The emphasis is not on their faith, but on the One behind their faith and on the object of their faith. Our faith is God-given and future-oriented. It isn't about the here and now. It is about what is to come. It is about the things not yet seen. It is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news that we have an inheritance reserved for us in heaven because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact that we can live lives of faith here and now is proof of the reality of God's promise. We live with our eyes set on the hope that lies before us and ahead of us. "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see."
Father, thank You that the issue is not the amount of faith I bring to the table, but the fact that I have any faith at all. The presence of faith in my life is evidence that You have changed my life. The fact that I have a hope in things I can't even see is proof of Your Holy Spirit's presence in my life. Thank You for giving me the faith to believe. Amen