13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed - the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
When we talk about Christianity, we call it the “Christian faith” rather than the “Christian religion.” It’s important to understand the difference here because the concept of faith is fundamental to Christianity, because faith is central to the Biblical view of redemption. Yet faith is a many-faceted concept, so even many professing Christians struggle to understand exactly what it is.
It’s a word or term we’re familiar with, yet it can also be very confusing. Faith is essentially the substance of our hope in the promises of God. Our hope is built on faith.
The most foundational definition of faith in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11:1. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The NKJV says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There’s a distinction here between faith and hope. They are intimately connected, but they are distinct nonetheless. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes about the three great virtues of Christianity: faith, hope, and love. This passage also teaches that there is a distinction between faith and hope.
Before we get into the link between these concepts, we need to be clear in our minds of the Biblical understanding of hope. Generally speaking, when we use the word hope, we usually mean the emotional state of desire in our hearts regarding what we would like to happen in the future, but are not sure will happen.
An example is hoping for better weather, or hoping that one day we’ll finally win the lottery. Non-biblical hope is a kind of arbitrary, hope-so hope. But when the Bible speaks of hope, it is not referring to a desire for a future outcome that is uncertain, but rather a desire for a future outcome that is absolutely sure. Based on our trust in the promises of God, we can be fully confident about the outcome. When God gives His people a promise for the future, and we grasp it and hold onto it, this hope becomes an anchor of the soul, as Hebrews 6:19 tells us. An anchor gives a ship protection against aimless drifting in the sea. The promises of God for tomorrow are the anchor for believers today, in this world of uncertainty.
When the Bible says, “faith is the substance of things hoped for,” it is speaking about something that has weight or significance. It is something of extreme value. The implication is that faith communicates the essence of the hope.
So basically, hope is faith looking forward. The word faith carries a strong element of trust. If our hope is based on something God has said will happen in the future, it follows that the hope we have for that future promise has its substance in our trust and confidence in the One making the promise in the first place.
We can have hope because we have faith in God. Because we can trust the promise of God for tomorrow, there is substance to our hope. It is something we can hold onto. Our hope is not just a whimsical, hope so, keep our fingers crossed fantasy. It’s not wishful thinking. It is a firm hope, because it is based on something substantive.
Hebrews 11:1 continues by saying that faith is the evidence of things not seen. Interestingly enough, there is a reference here to one of the senses of the human body through which we gain knowledge, the sense of sight. We’ve all heard the saying, “seeing is believing.” When I see something, then I will believe it as fact. Actually, this attitude is not really opposed to Biblical faith, because the Bible calls us to put our trust in the gospel not on the basis of some irrational leap into the darkness but rather on the basis of the testimony of eyewitnesses who report in Scripture about what they saw. The Christian faith grew rapidly in the days and weeks immediately following the resurrection, as eyewitnesses shared their stories of seeing the risen Jesus. The apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:16, “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus is well documented, and he says that he believed in the resurrection because many eyewitnesses saw the resurrected Christ, and he also saw Him himself.
So there is a link in the Bible between faith and seeing, and yet the author of Hebrews describes faith as the conviction of things not seen. Maybe this is why some people incorrectly think that putting your faith in God and His promises is a blind leap of faith into the unknown. They say, “We believe what we believe for no reason whatsoever. You pays your money and you takes your chance.” There is this mistaken idea out there that there are many religions in the world, and we just need to pick one of them. We are the ones who just happened to pick the Christian religion. That idea is wrong on so many levels. We have nothing in common with the countless man-made religions and cults. Christianity is unique and it stands alone in that our faith is in the One who came to us and revealed Himself to us first. The Christian faith is everything but closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and wishing with all of your might that something is true, then saying, “It’s true.” That is credulity, not faith.
The Bible never claims that we should jump into the darkness. In fact, the Bible calls us to come out of the darkness and into the light. True faith is not blind, wishful thinking. If it was, then why does Hebrews 11 say that faith is “the evidence of things not seen”?
When faith is linked to hope, it is put into the time frame of the future. God, in a mysterious way that we cannot completely grasp, is over and above time itself. He is not restricted to a timeline like we are. He sees the past, present and future simultaneously. It’s a concept that we simply can’t quite wrap our finite minds around. We can’t see tomorrow. None of us has experienced tomorrow, yet Hebrews 11 says that faith is the evidence of things not seen.
Evidence is tangible. Evidence is something we can see and know through one or more of our five senses. Watch any crime movie, and evidence is what is needed to prove guilt or innocence. Evidence is visible and points beyond itself to some important truth. Evidence is analysed in order to reach a verdict or a decision.
So how do we apply this principle to trusting God for our tomorrows?
Simple: I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I know that God knows what tomorrow is going to bring. So if God promises that tomorrow will bring something, and if I trust God for tomorrow, I have faith in something I have not yet seen. That faith serves as evidence because its object is God. I know Him. He has a track record. He can be trusted, and He never lies. God knows everything and is perfect in every way, so if He tells me that something is going to happen tomorrow, I believe it even though I haven’t seen it yet.
That’s not credulity or irrationality. In fact, it’s actually irrational to not believe something that God says regarding some future event, because He holds the future.
But what does God say about the future? He not only reveals to us events of tomorrow that we haven’t yet seen, but He also reveals to us much about the supernatural realm beyond the physical realm – things we just cannot see. We can’t see the angels. We can’t see Heaven. But God teaches us the reality of these things, and by faith we see that they have substance because God is credible. He can be believed.
When God spoke to Abraham, He spoke to him about the future. In Genesis 12:1-3 He said: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abraham believed God. He set out, not knowing where he was going, travelling to a country and a future he had never seen. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Properly laid foundations are firm, and they can be trusted.
Abraham wasn’t some kind of prospector looking for pirate’s treasure hidden in a cave somewhere. Abraham was looking for a place because God had told him that He was going to show him that place. He trusted God for what he had not yet seen, and by doing that became the father of the faithful.
Like Abraham, we are pilgrims and travellers in this world, searching for that heavenly country, the city whose designer and builder is God. We have not seen this city, but we know it exists, and the evidence for it is the trust that we have in the One who promises it to those who believe.
And if you strip it all down, that is what faith really is. It is not believing in God. It’s believing God. The Christian life is about believing God. It is about living by every word that proceeds from His mouth. It is about following Him into places where we’ve never been, into situations that we’ve never experienced, into countries that we’ve never seen, because we know who He is. Someone has described faith as “that which enables the believing soul to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen.”
This is the kind of faith that the Bible calls, in one sense, a childlike faith. Childlike – not childish.
When we were toddlers, we had very little knowledge about what was safe and what was dangerous. We would put our hands into the hands of our fathers or mothers, and they would walk us down the street as we began exploring our world. When we came to a traffic light, we didn’t know the significance of a red light or a green light. But our parents guided us. When they stopped, we stopped. When they stepped off the pavement and crossed the street, so did we. We trusted our parents because we were under their care.
A child’s trust in his or her parents is not an irrational thing. In fact, a generation later when it became our turn to hold little hands and guide our own toddlers across the road, we knew by then that a child’s trust in their parents is the most sensible and rational thing they could learn.
In a very similar way we are called to trust God, knowing that He is looking out for us. Childlike faith has confidence in the character of the God who regards us as His children.
The pilgrimage of the Christian life is a pilgrimage of faith. It begins when God plants those first seeds of faith in our hearts. In the first stage of our Christian experience, we embrace Jesus and we trust Him for our redemption, but that’s just the start. The whole pilgrimage of the life of a Christian is rooted and grounded in confidence and trust in Jesus. The whole process is defined by living in faith. This is why God told the prophet Habakkuk, “the righteous shall live by his faith.”
The story of Habakkuk is interesting, and if you consider what’s going on in our own country today, especially with the prayer meeting in Bloemfontein yesterday, you can see clear parallels between Habakkuk’s time and ours. He was mystified that God would allow His chosen people to be defeated by the pagan Babylonians, and he cries out for God to do something. He was a man of prayer who knew that somehow, sometime, God would act. In Chapter 2:1 he says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.”
And then from verse 2 God replies to him: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright - but the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:1-4)
This seemingly innocuous statement, “the righteous shall live by his faith,” is quoted three times in the New Testament: in Romans 1, Galatians 3 and Hebrews 10. Do you want to please God? Then learn to trust Him by putting your faith and hope in Him. Live by faith.
To paraphrase God’s answer to Habakkuk: “I will answer your question. But I will not answer it immediately. You must wait. But while you wait, remember that the answer will come.”
This expression, “the righteous shall live by his faith,” is implied by Jesus in His conflict with satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4. Jesus reminds the devil that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. To say that we live by all the words that God speaks is the same thing as saying that we live by faith. We take God at His word. We trust our lives, body and soul, to Him, to His value system, to His will and to His Word.
When the scoffers and doubters taunt you with their “Where is this God of yours now?” just remember His promises to you. These things will pass. Jesus will return for His bride. There is a Holy City, and those who believe in the atoning death of Jesus Christ have their names written in the Book of Life, and your name has been written in that book in blood.
Even though we groan at times under the weight of life and all it throws at us, we know that God will deliver on His promises. They will come to pass, and the righteous person in God’s sight is the person who lives by faith.
The closing verses in the NIV Bible of Hebrews 6 is subtitled, “The certainty of God’s promise.”
“When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” (Hebrews 6:13-20)
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Hebrews 10:35-11:2
As Christians we are familiar with the words ‘faith’ and ‘hope.’
Discuss the similarities between these two concepts.
What are the differences?
We often hear that Christianity is a relationship, and not a religion.
What are the differences, and why is it important to know that there are, in fact, differences?
What does it mean to say that the “righteous shall live by faith?”
What is the Biblical understanding of hope, and how does this help us to strengthen and deepen our faith in God?
Read 2 Peter 3:3-9
How are we to answer when the “scoffers” question our faith and hope in God’s promises (and His apparent delays)?
Share with your group a time when you struggled to see God’s purposes through a particular time in your life.
What did you learn about God?
What did you learn about yourself?
Close by praying that God would give us the strength we need to live by faith.