The Meaning of Faith

Knowing the meaning of faith can be difficult.  It seems that everyone has a different definition of faith.  Yet I am told that “without faith, it is impossible to please Him”  (Heb. 11.6).  The Bible also tells me that I cannot access the grace of God without faith  (Rom. 5.1,2).  It is faith that helps me through the difficult times in my life.  It is faith that keeps me going when I want to give up.  This makes my knowing the meaning of faith extremely important.

You might be surprised to learn that the way most of the world uses faith is very different than the way faith is described in the Bible.  Some will tell us that faith is believing in something even when all the facts point to the contrary.  However, if I want to understand faith, I need to go to the Bible and see what God says about it.  What kind of faith does God want me to have, so that I can be pleasing to Him and live a happy and fruitful life?

Hebrews 11 is one of the most comprehensive chapters on faith in all of the Bible.  If I want to know the meaning of faith, Hebrews 11 is where I want to go.  This chapter begins with a definition of faith.  After the definition is set before us, the writer presents a series of examples of individual who had this biblical faith.

Hebrews 11:1 And the Meaning of Faith

When I turn to the book of Hebrews, and flip over to chapter 11, I find these words in beginning.

Hebrews 11.1:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

What is the meaning if faith?  This verse tells me that faith consists of two attributes.  

  1. Faith is the substance of things hoped for.
  2. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

Let’s look at these two attributes a little closer.

Faith is the Substance of Things Hoped For

This verse tells me that faith is what gives substance to my hope.  In other words, faith is the reason why I have hope.  

There are some people who have no hope.  When they face the difficulties in their life, they feel hopeless.  They are facing a financial crisis and sinking deeper and deeper into debt.  Their marriage is on the rocks, and there is no hope that they will ever be able to work things out.  They are struggling with life-threatening or life altering medical conditions with no hope that they will ever get better.  They are filled with fears and doubts.  They shed the tears of ultimate sadness from an empty soul who has no expectation of things working out in their favor.  

In Ephesians 2.11,12, we are told that we can have hope because of Jesus.  

Ephesians 2.12,13:  “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” 

Where can I find hope?  What helps me to get through the difficulties of my life with the hope that things will work out?  Hebrews 11.1 says that is it faith.  Faith is the substance of hope.  In other words, faith is what gives me reason to hope.  

I can be someone who has the hope of something better, the hope that my spouse and I can work out our differences, the hope that somehow I will still be able to feed my family, the hope that even if my illness takes my life, I have a home in heaven waiting for me because of Jesus.  I can be a person filled with hope because of my faith.  It is possible to have faith which gives me hope because of Jesus.  

Faith gives support to my hope.  Faith is the reason why I can have hope.  If I want to understand the meaning of faith, the Bible tells me that faith means that my hope is not empty.  

Faith is the Evidence of Things Not Seen

I learn the meaning of faith in Hebrews 11.1 that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.”  This verse does not end there.  It also tells me that faith not only is the foundation of my hope, but it is also the evidence of things not seen.  There are two thoughts to this statement.

1.  I Believe in the Invisible, Spiritual World.

When I think about things that are not seen, what immediately comes to mind are such things as God, angels, and heaven.  The things of the spiritual realm are things that I cannot see.  Therefore faith is believing in that which is invisible.  I believe in the invisible because of the physical evidence.  It is true that physical evidence proves that God exists.  The Bible tells us that God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”  (Rom. 1.20).    

One of the things this passage tells me is that the concept behind the meaning of faith is to accept the evidence that shows me that what I cannot see is real.  I cannot see the wind, but I know it exists because I can see the leaves moving.  I cannot see God, but I can see the evidence of His existence in the creation.  So faith is described as the evidence of things not seen.

There is also another thought that is worth considering.  

2.  I Believe in the Unseen Future.  

Faith is conviction of things working out.  What are the things that I cannot see?  I cannot look into the future and know how my current circumstance will resolve itself.  I cannot see my future home in heaven.  Consider this explanation from Romans 8.25.

Romans 8.25:  “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

Remember that hope is described as standing on the foundation of faith.  According to Romans 8, hope is an eager anticipation of things not seen because these things are yet future.  The things not seen are things that have not happened yet.  I know that in the future, I will be okay.  How do I know that?  I know because I have faith.  I know that in the future Jesus will come again, and in the coming of Christ I have hope.  How do I know that?  I know because I have faith.  

These are things that I haven’t seen.  It is still future.  But I am convinced that the things I hope for will become a reality because of my faith.  How it is possible for me to know that I have a mansion in heaven waiting for me?  I haven’t seen it.  Faith is not only the foundation of those things that I hope for.  The meaning being faith is also that it convinces me that those things that I hope for, though I cannot see them being yet future, are real.

The Two-Pronged Meaning of Faith

If I keep reading through the book of Hebrews, I find the meaning of faith explained in further detail.  In the verses that follow, I learn that this faith that gives me a reason to hope for better things in the future does two things.

1.  Faith Accepts What God Says as Fact

When I read down to verse 6, I find these words…

Hebrews 11.6:  “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

This verse tells me that I cannot please God without faith.  What is the meaning of faith?  It is when I believe that God is.  Faith is accepting as fact that God exists.  

This verse also tells me that faith is when I believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Faith is accepting as fact that God rewards those who seek Him.  

I find the same thing in the book of Romans.  In Romans 4, I am presented with the meaning of faith in the example of Abraham.  I am then told that I need to have the same kind of faith that Abraham had.  What kind of faith did Abraham have?  Look at verse 3

Romans 4.3:  “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

When I go all the way back to Genesis 12, I read about how God made three promises to Abraham.  Abraham accepted as fact what God told him.  This idea of accepting what God says as fact is the kind of faith Abraham had, and is the kind of faith that we need to have.  

To accept as fact what God says, I need to first hear what God says.  I cannot accept what God says as fact without first hearing.  I can turn to Romans 10 and find these words.

Romans 10.14:  “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” 

Romans 10.17:  “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

When I read my Bible and accept what God is telling me in His book, the Bible calls that having faith.  But that is not all there is to it.  There is one more aspect of faith that is largely overlooked.  Yet it is part of the meaning of faith.

2.  Faith Obeys what God Commands

If I want to know the meaning of faith, I need to know that faith is not just accepting what God says as fact.  That’s part of it, but that is not all of it.  Faith is also acting on what I hear.  So I accept what God says and do what God says.  If I keep reading Hebrews 11, I find people who were moved by faith to do something.

  • "By faith Abel offered..."  (Heb. 11.4).
  • "By faith Noah...prepared an ark"  (Heb. 11.7).
  • "By faith Abraham obeyed..."  (Heb. 11.8).
  • "By faith Abraham...offered Isaac"  (Heb. 11.17).
  • "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau"  (Heb. 11.20).
  • "By faith Jacob...blessed each of the sons of Jacob"  (Heb. 11.21).
  • "By faith Moses...refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter"  (Heb. 11.24).
  • "By faith the harlot Rahab...received the spies"  (Heb. 11.31).

When I look at the above examples of faith, I find something that each of these examples have in common.  Every one of these individuals had faith, and as a result of their faith, they did something.  The meaning of faith involves accepting what God says and acting on what God says.  Faith is always followed by action.

If I turn to the next book, I find the same thing.  

James 2.18:  "But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.'  Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

When I have faith, I accept what God says, and I do what God says.  Why are we careful to do the things that God wants us to do?  Why are we diligent to keep His commandments?  Why are we careful to stay away from immorality and keep ourselves from sin?  It isn’t because we are trying to earn our way to heaven by being good enough.  It is because we are acting on faith.  

Why do you try to be a good husband or wife?  You do so because you believe in God who tells you the kind of husband or wife you need to be.  Why does one get baptized?  You get baptized because you believed God when He told you that it was at baptism that He was going to wash away your sins  (Acts 22.16).  You don’t do these things because you think it will earn you a place in heaven.  You do these things because you believe.

Remember the example of Abraham in Romans 4?  Abraham accepted what God said as fact, but that is not all he did.  Look again at how Abraham is described in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11.8:  “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

Abraham accepted what God said, and then he acted on is by doing what God commanded him to do.  The Bible tells me that I am to have the same kind of faith that Abraham had  (Rom. 4.12).  

I obey because I believe.  If I say that I have faith, but do not do what God tells me to do, then my faith is dead  (James 2.26).  Why would I say I have faith, and then not do what God tells me to do?

Concluding thoughts

In my study of the meaning of faith, I have learned some things from Hebrews 11:  

  • Faith is the foundation of my hope.  (v. 1)
  • Faith is believing that the future is bright even though I cannot see it.  (v. 1)
  • Faith is accepting what God says as fact.  (v. 6)
  • Faith is obeying what God say.  (v. 8)

Let's put this all together.  When I have a faith that accepts what God says and does what God says, then I have hope for eternal life, a home in heaven, even though I cannot see it.  If I do not have these components of faith, then I fall into the category of one who does not have hope.  But when I accept and act, I have the hope that will get me though the difficulties of life, help me live a life that is pleasing to God, and allow me to look forward to a home in heaven.  

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