“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)
There is a sense in which all people live by faith every day. Society is built upon a foundation of faith. We drink water from a faucet in perfect confidence that it is safe to drink. We eat food in a restaurant trusting that it is not contaminated. We place our lives in the hands of surgeons with faith in their training and experience, We board huge airplanes with confidence in the reliability of the airline, the pilot and the mechanics who serviced the plane.
This is how faith operates. It willingly accepts and acts on things it does not understand. The heroes of the Bible are distinguished by their faith in God. They had faith in the invisible God and they trusted him to keep his word. Their exceptional faith marked them as examples to us of how to live by faith in God. Hebrews chapter 11 gives us a list of some of these heroes of faith.
The chapter begins with an explanation of faith. It tells us what faith can do. The text says “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1). “Being sure” is a translation of a word which means “to stand under.” In Bible times this word was used of a title deed which stood under and validated a commercial transaction. So faith is said to be the foundation upon which our future rests. It is assurance that God will give the eternal life that we hope for.
Abraham had this kind of assurance. “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
Like Abraham, we are offered the gift of righteousness and acceptance before God. This comes through faith in Jesus Christ. “Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
It is faith in God which gives us hope for the future. It is not faith in ourselves or other people, or faith in politics, or faith in horoscopes, astrology, or any other new age mumbo jumbo. People exercise faith in these things all the time. But to have acceptance with God our faith must be placed in the right object. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
When we exercise saving faith in this way, it leads to certainty. Hebrews 11:1 says we may be “certain of what we do not see.” What do we not see as yet? We cannot see the future. We cannot see God. He is invisible. We do not yet see the all the events connected to the second coming of our Lord Jesus. But by faith we live in confident expectation of the fulfillment of his promises. “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not already have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24-25).
This is illustrated in the stories of biblical people who exhibited faith in God. “This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:2). They gained God’s approval because of their faith and they are held up to us as examples. To be sure, they were not perfect people. When you read their life stories in the Old Testament, you discover that they had moral blind spots like the rest of humanity and there were times when they failed spiritually.
But they were approved by God for one reason: their faith. That is what Hebrews 11 is all about. It gives us the stories of people who were forgiven, restored, made new. In each of these examples, God gave witness to their faith. This was his stamp of approval on their lives.
One of the things we discover when we read about the faithful in Hebrews 11 is that faith is like a muscle. It must be exercised in order to grow stronger. For us now, it begins by having faith in Jesus as savior. Faith grows through the reading and study of the Bible. Our faith is nourished when we keep company with other people of faith. In addition, we may pray as the disciples of Jesus prayed, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).
God has given us five senses by which to live on the human level, sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling. But they are not adequate to help us reach the divine. We need what John Wesley called “a sixth sense,” which is faith. It is faith which puts us in touch with divine reality. It is faith in the divine-human Jesus. It is faith in the promises to be found in the divine-human book, the Bible. It is faith which God approves. It is faith which God rewards. It is faith which makes us “certain of what we do not see.”
Pastor Randy Faulkner