googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Hebrews 11: Faith or Wishful Thinking?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hebrews 11: Faith or Wishful Thinking?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

A lot of people confuse “faith” with “blind faith” or “wishful thinking.” Archie Bunker once said, “Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.” Archie never failed to get a laugh but, in this case, I can't say that I endorse his theology.

Hebrews 11 gives us a very different impression of faith then Archie Bunker's. The opening passage – taken from the KJV – describes faith as the “substance” of things hoped for and the “evidence” of things not seen. Other translations use equally concrete terms: words like, “assurance,” “conviction,” and “confidence.” Faith is not a tentative concept where the believer simply “hopes” or “wishes” something to be true. Faith means certainty.

Hebrews 11 makes two statements about faith.

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

This might sound a little cryptic at first but the epistle writer spends the rest of the chapter explaining what is meant by each of these. In this post, we'll dissect some of the examples.

Verse 3 begins a discussion about how the world was formed – by “the word of God” (ῥῆμα, (rhēma) “the spoken word”). The creation was an event that no one witnessed. How can we know what happened if we didn't see it happen? Many scientists today observe processes that are occurring in the present and use these to extrapolate what happened in the past. They are, quite literally, using the things we see to try to understand the things we didn't see.

Hebrews 11:3 tells us that exactly the opposite is true. The universe was not made by the things that we can see. God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). John 1:3 attests, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The things that God created includes not only time, matter, and space, but also the natural laws that operate within them. Natural laws are a part of the creation; they are not the cause of the creation.

So even though we weren't there in the beginning, we can know with confidence how the universe was created. It is not blind faith. It is not wishful thinking. It is a certainty; an assurance. We know it is true because it has been revealed to us by the One who was there. By faith, we have evidence about an event we did not see.

Likewise, by faith, we can also have certainty in things that have not yet happened, that is, “things hoped for.” The word translated in the KJV as “substance” is the Greek word, ὑπόστασις (hypostasis). In the Bible, it only occurs here but it was a common word used in business documents. It's literally a contract or guarantee. It's an absolute promise that what has been stated will happen.

Hebrews 11:7 says that God warned Noah about the coming judgment. Even though the Flood had not yet happened, Noah built the Ark in faith, knowing with certainty that it would come. Since God said it would happen, it was a certainty that the world would flood. Noah was as sure about the coming Flood as he was about anything. Because of his faith in God's word, Noah and his family were delivered through the Flood.

The chapter mentions several other notable characters of the Old Testament. This chapter has been called “the Faith Hall of Fame.” In each case, these men and women of old were obedient to God, knowing by faith that the promises He made to them would come to pass. Hebrews 11:39a says these people “gained approval” by their faith (NASB). Yet, in their lifetimes, none of them received the promise in which they hoped. It was not simply “faith” that saved these people but rather it was their faith in the promise of what was to come.  What they believed in the most would come centuries after they lived.

People of the Old Testament were saved the same way we are – by faith in Jesus. The characters mentioned in Hebrews 11 could not know Jesus the same way we know Him. Nevertheless, they believed in the Messiah God had promised all the way back in Genesis 3:16, the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

Matthew 24:35 says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. If you are certain the sun will rise tomorrow, you can be even more certain that God's word is sure. The word of God is not equivocal. If He said it, He meant it. Because of His revelation, I have incontrovertible evidence about things I did not see: things like the creation, the Fall, and the Flood. I also have absolute assurance about things that have not yet happened: like the return of Christ and His promise of eternal life to all who believe.

I don't think; I know!

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