Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11 contains what is popularly known as the “Hall of Faith.” It highlights key expressions of faith from the lives of biblical heroes. As Hebrews builds to its climactic moment, this list of stories is intended to encourage and inspire us as readers to follow their examples of faith. But before this sequence of stories begins, the chapter starts by clarifying what faith is. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
This verse has frequently been interpreted in pop culture as saying that faith is a blind leap that ignores reason. This interpretation couldn’t be further from the truth. First, faith is not blind. Faith is actually something that involves keen spiritual vision. By faith, people are able to see what is unseen—God and His promises.
As Hebrews 11:13 says, “All these people 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” (see also Hebrews 11:3, 27).
Second, faith is not something that ignores reason. Faith is actually rooted in reason. Faith looks at the evidence, how God has already begun to fulfill His promises, and makes a reasonable decision to trust that God will one day completely fulfill these promises. This is exactly how the faith of the heroes in Hebrews 11 is described. Hebrews 11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned . . . .”
The significance of these things for us is that we live in a culture that says in order to have faith, you have to blindly check your brain at the door. If faith was that simple and easy, more people would do it. The truth is that faith is difficult, not because it ignores facts, but because it may require us to do things that are uncomfortable for us. The point of the stories recorded in Hebrews 11 is to encourage us; others have walked this road before us. They were able to walk this road because they saw and reasoned that God is worthy of our trust.
FAITH IN ACTION
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about 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.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offer- ing than Cain did. By faith he was commend- ed as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 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.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Faith is not easy. Questions and doubts about God can prevent people from exploring faith or simply stall them from growing. The reality is that there are limits to human reason, and at some point, we have to choose if we are going to have faith in the things we don’t understand, or not. Imagine how hard it must have been for Abraham to have faith in God when He asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac! It’s ok to have questions and doubts, but what’s important is how you address them. What questions or doubts do you have about God? How can you use reason to help you process them? Who can you bring your questions and doubts to?
The greatest understanding of faith is believing in God’s promises even though we may not see them come to fruition. Just like Sarah demonstrated her faith in Hebrews 11:11-12, we demonstrate true faith when we believe God will do what He says He will. What promises from God are you waiting on? How can you continue to have faith even if you don’t see what God is doing?
In Hebrews 11:8-10, Abraham is remembered for obediently leaving his home and going to another land. He was even willing to sacrifice his own son (Hebrews 11:17). We should not be surprised if God asks us to give up our security or comfort in order to carry out His will. What might God be asking you to give up to live in obedience to His will? Are you willing to sacrifice the things that the world says you need in order to do that?