By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Please define and explain the meaning of faith in Hebrews 11:1. How do we develop greater, stronger faith?
Reply: Faith needs to be properly understood because of its great need and also because so many do not understand what it is and when it saves or justifies. John expressed the importance of faith when he wrote: “For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). Faith is essential in a world that is steeped in sin and that is shaken by doubts and fears. Fear is predominant in the absence of faith. When a storm arose on the sea of Galilee, Jesus was asleep in the boat. His disciples were afraid and woke Him. He said to them, “Why are ye fearful, 0 ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26) Faith is the need of the hour.
The writer of the book of Hebrews states in chapter eleven, verse one: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). The American Standard Version translates it: “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” The marginal footnote (ASV) on “assurance” is: “Or, the giving substance to. ” The word “substance” (from the Greek, hupostasis) is translated “confidence” in Hebrews 3:14. Faith, according to the Hebrew writer is composed of two elements: confidence and conviction. The meaning of faith is made clearer when this is understood. It is a confidence in things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (invisible).
Our difference with those who espouse the “faith only” doctrine is not that we are saved by faith. The Scriptures clearly teach that faith is essential to salvation (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:16; 3:36; Acts 16:31; Heb. 11:6; etc.) The issue is: what is faith, and at what point does faith save? This is where we differ. The problem with those who believe and teach that we are saved by merely believing, and without any further acts of obedience, is that they have only a partial understanding of what faith is. They acknowledge only one element of faith – conviction. They require a belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but they fail to consider that the faith that saves is more than a mere assent of the mind. The faith that saves is an active, obedient faith. This is the other element – confidence. Usually, faith is thought of as “the belief of a proposition that is supported by testimony,” but saving faith is more than that. It is a confidence in God that will lead one to do exactly what God has enjoined upon him to do, and in the way that God said to do it. Faith in a physician is having confidence in him to do what he prescribes. Faith is produced by evidence (Jn. 20:30,31; Rom. 10:17). We believe this evidence, thus it is conviction. Confidence then, causes us to obey God’s instructions. The jailor in Acts 16 was instructed to believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:3 1). The word of the Lord was spoken to him so he could believe (v. 32) and he did believe. He was then convicted. By faith he washed the stripes of Paul and Silas (he repented) and was baptized, he and all his immediately, the same hour of the night (v. 33). This is the point at which he was saved by faith. As proof of this, we see in verse 34 that after he was baptized he “set food before them and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God” (emphasis mine, H.H.) Here is a classic example of when faith saves or justifies. It is when we obey the Lord (Rom. 5:1).
Like a lexicographer who defines a word and then proceeds to give examples of its use, the author of Hebrews defines faith (11:1) as confidence and conviction; then he illustrates the definition by examples. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (v. 4). Abel believed in the invisible God and his faith led him to offer the kind of sacrifice which God had prescribed. It was conviction coupled with confidence. This definition is clearly illustrated in verse 6, “and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” It is conviction – “believe that he is” and confidence – “a rewarder of them that seek after him.” It is a conviction of the unseen and a confidence in things hoped for. As we walk down the memorable halls of Hebrews 11, we read the epitaphs of those who lived and died by faith. It is noted that in every case their faith involved action. Abel offered, Noah prepared an ark, Abraham obeyed, etc. Faith has always been manifested by bodily acts, prompted by belief in the heart (Rom. 10:10). It is a work of God because He provided it as a part of His scheme of redemption (Jn. 6:28,29). Faith that works is the kind of work that saves (Jas. 2:24,26).
How do we develop greater, stronger faith? Basically, by studying the word of God (Rom. 10:17) and applying it to our lives. A sincere study of His word will prompt the Christian to pray fervently and thus realize a greater dependence upon God. A greater, stronger faith is developed when we study the Bible, learn, meditate, assemble with the saints and worship regularly. In a world that is saturated with doubt and in a godless society in which we live, may we believe firmly that God is, and trust Him with such confidence that will prompt us to put him first. That faith will sustain us and furnish us with an eternal hope (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 14, p. 420
July 16, 1987