Hebrews 11:1-2 - Faith in Things Not Seen
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendationHebrews 11:1-2
Faith is a mysterious thing. Human beings can believe in anything and base their lives on all sorts of strange ideas. Therefore, faith does not have a very great support group in this world. We must base our lives on empirical evidence we are told. Only what we can prove is real.
However, the very people who preach this base their lives on their faith in themselves to find out the truth. He bases himself on that faith and refuses anything he hasn't proved. It may or may not be true, but he will not base his life on it until he proves it. If he can then he will. That, at least is his claim. Man has set himself up as the arbiter of truth, which is idolatry, for the arbiter of truth is God. What He says is truth. God is truth says Scripture, and those who believe God base themselves on His truth, on the truth of His word. The empiricist and the rationalist will say that they have no proof that the Bible is the word of God. They can only say that it was written by men over many thousands of years. Therefore, they claim our faith is irrational, based on a leap of faith. It is not, for the Holy Spirit reveals to us that the Bible is God's word in many ways. However, the empiricists and rationalists do not have the Spirit of God (Ph 14:17) and, therefore cannot know the truth of God's word. Its truth is not open to them for they cannot verify it because the Holy Spirit has not opened their understanding. It is a closed book to them. Its truth cannot be known. However, to those whose eyes the Holy Spirit has opened faith is not a leap in the dark, a leap of faith. It is grounded in God's revelation. The translation of verse 1 is fraught with difficulty, for the words used – assurance and conviction – have a broad range of meanings in the Greek. However, if we read through Hebrews 11 we get the general idea of where the author is going. If we use that as our guide we can reduce the number of options available to us. Assurance translates a word that points to something that underlies something else as ground or foundation, often only coming to expression through something else. The first part of this verse says that faith undergirds what we hope for what God has promised. Hope springs up from his faith.
We believe God's promises to us and so hope flares up. It has fuel for its fire.
Conviction translates a word that means trying or testing something to see if it is genuine. It, therefore, comes to mean proof or conviction of guilt. Here it is being used positively. The person who believes has been convicted of the truth of the promises. We would translate convinced.
The amazing thing about this faith is that it is in things not seen. That aspect of our faith is embedded in the very nature of God whom we confess as invisible, or dwelling in light unapproachable. We cannot see our God. We cannot see what He has promised either. Faith does not live by sight, but by the word of God and the promises of God.
The faith that is demonstrated in chapter 11 is faith in things God has said. It is faith of those declared righteous by God through faith. That faith, however, is demonstrated by the things the believers did. James tells us that faith without works is dead (2:26), and it is if it does not produce the obedience of faith in works of faith. Heb 1:1 is not talking about an abstract admission that God's word is true, but about a life lived based on the truth of God's word and His promises. These people have lost their lives, have left their families behind, have left riches behind and all sorts of things have happened to them because they believed. The proof of their faith was in their works. They could not have done what they did without it. That they had faith was visible to God and especially to us. We read in Scripture that God was pleased with these people. We read that as encouragement for us to act in the same way. Their faith was to trust in God's promises. That trust undergirded and formed what they did.
The Hebrews to whom this letter was written were to act in that faith, not looking back to where they had come from, but looking forward to where they were going. We are to act from that same faith and in that faith. We too have to be ready to base our lives on the word and promises of God and not on the things of this world. God can require of us that we abandon all things for His sake, but He also promises us all things in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 8:32). In that faith we have to live and act and we can, based on God's sure word. Let us then walk by that same faith, for those who do are declared righteous by God and are heirs of God's promises.