Central Truth: Faith is grasping the unrealities of hope and bringing them into the realm of reality.
A key verse in the study of faith is the familiar one found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Moffatt’s translation of this verse reads, “Now faith means that we are confident of what we hope for, convinced of what we do not see.” Another translation says, “Faith is giving substance to things hoped for.” Still another translation reads, “Faith is the warranty deed, the thing for which we have finally hoped is at last ours.” Here God is telling us what faith is.
There are a number of kinds of faith. Everyone, saved and unsaved alike, has a natural, human faith. The above Scripture, however, is talking about a supernatural faith – a faith that believes with the heart rather than believing what our physical senses may tell us. Faith, in other words, is grasping the unrealities of hope and bringing them into the realm of reality. And faith grows out of the Word of God.
Our text describes faith as “the evidence of things not seen.” For example, you hope for finances to meet the obligations that you have to pay. Faith gives the assurance that you will have the money when you need it. You hope for physical strength to do the work that you must do. Faith says, “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Faith will say about itself everything that the Word says, for faith in God is simply faith in His Word.
I learned an important lesson on faith shortly after I was raised up from the bed of affliction many years ago. I needed work; and, since this was during the depression, work was not easy to find. I was able to get a job in a nursery helping to pull up peach trees. With another boy on the other side of the tree, together we would pull up these two-year-old trees to fill orders that had come in. This was really hard work – especially since I had been bedfast for sixteen months and at this time had been up only a few months.
Every day the number of workers would be less and less, and each day someone would say to me, “Well, I didn’t think you’d make it today. You know, two or three quit yesterday.” “If it wasn’t for the Lord I wouldn’t be here,” I would answer, “for you see, His strength is my strength. The Bible says, ‘The Lord is the strength of my life …’ My life consists of the physical as well as the spiritual, and the Lord is the strength of my life.” If I had gone according to my feelings I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. I acted upon the Word because I knew what faith was. I never received any strength until I started to work. Many people want to receive and then believe they’ve got it. It doesn’t work that way, though. You have to believe first, and then you will receive. So I would pull myself out of bed each morning and go to work, gaining strength as I went along trusting in God’s Word. Although I was the weakest and skinniest one among that group of men, I was the last one to stay on the job.
We may say that we know God’s Word is good, but we will never really know until we have acted on it and have reaped its results. Faith is giving substance to things hoped for. I went to work, I acted on God’s Word. I hoped for physical strength to do the work that I knew must be done, and as I acted on God’s Word my faith gave substance to that which I hoped for. Hope says, “I’ll have it sometime.” Faith says, “I have it now.”
Head Faith vs. Heart Faith
John Wesley once said that the devil has given the church a substitute for faith, one that looks and sounds so much like faith that few people can tell the difference. This substitute he called “mental assent.” Many people read God’s Word and agree that it is true, but they are agreeing only with their minds. And that is not what gets the job done. It is heart faith that receives from God.
Mark 11:23, 24
23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
How can we tell whether we have this heart faith or we are just mentally agreeing? Mental assent says, “I know God’s Word is true. I know God has promised healing, but for some reason I can’t get it; I can’t understand it.” However, real faith in God’s Word says, “If God’s Word says it’s so, then it’s so. It is mine. I have it now.” Faith says, “I have it even though I can’t see it.”
I’ve heard people say, “But the thing I have been praying about hasn’t come to pass yet.” If you already have it, you wouldn’t have to believe it, for then you would know it. You have to take that step of believing in order to come to the place of knowing. Too many people want to know it from the standpoint of its coming to pass, and then believe it. We must believe it because God’s Word says it is ours, then it materializes.
Notice from the verse quoted above that the receiving comes after the believing. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24). Jesus was simply saying, “You’ve got to believe you have it before you can receive it.”
I have never been able to receive physical healing for myself without first believing that I had it, while every symptom in my body was crying out, “You don’t have it.” I simply stand firm on what God’s Word says about my healing and continue to claim that I am healed. Results are then forthcoming. But if I were to sit around, groan and sigh, gripe and complain, waiting until every symptom is gone and my feelings correspond with my faith before I will believe, I would never get very far. For “faith is … the evidence of things not seen.”
Abraham’s Faith vs. Thomas’ Faith
Too many Christians have a “Thomas faith” when they should have an “Abraham faith.” Thomas said, “I’ll not believe until I can see Him,” whereas “Abraham staggered not at the promise of God … but was strong in faith.”
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Why did Thomas find it hard to believe that Jesus was alive? (Thomas had seen the nails pierce Jesus’ hands and had seen the spear thrust into His side. His physical senses told him that Jesus was dead. Thomas was using head knowledge, rather than heart faith.)
Compare Now the Faith of Abraham
17 (As it is written, I have made thee [Abraham] a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body, now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:
20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
Notice the difference in Thomas’ faith and Abraham’s faith. Thomas had only a natural, human faith which said, “I’m not going to believe unless I can see and feel.” Abraham, however, believed God’s Word, considering not his own body – his own natural senses. If Abraham didn’t consider physical knowledge or feelings, what did he consider then? (The Word of God)
A number of years ago when I was healed of heart trouble, I was struggling along some of these faith lines that many people do. Alarming heart symptoms would return. While praying and standing on the promises of God, even while suffering severe pain, the Lord reminded me of Abraham who “considered not his own body.” He showed me that I should not consider my body, but rather should consider His Word. As I did this, repeating to myself some of God’s promises in the scriptures regarding healing, such as, “For himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses,” every symptom would leave. Too many times we focus our attention on the wrong thing. We consider our physical body and the symptoms rather than looking to God’s Word.
“Well, God hasn’t heard my prayer yet. I’m just getting worse, and I guess I’ll wind up being operated on,” moaned one dear brother. And he will as long as he travels that road of unbelief. In one church where I visited, a certain woman would end her testimony regularly with, “You pray for me. I just believe I’ve got cancer.” No doubt if she keeps believing it she will get it. Jesus said, “According to your faith so be it unto you.” Another person requested prayer saying, “Please pray for me. I believe I’m taking a cold.” If that is the way you believe, it won’t do any good for me to pray, for “According to your faith so be it unto you.” We need to walk by faith, not by sight.
Some have misunderstood this type of teaching, thinking I tell folks to deny all symptoms and go on as if they weren’t even there. They think I am teaching Christian Science. However, this is not Christian Science, this is Christian sense. We do not deny pains and other symptoms, for they are very real. Instead, we look beyond them to God’s promises.
Real faith in the Word says, “If God says it is so, then it is so. If He says ‘By his stripes ye were healed,’ then I am healed. If He says, ‘God shall supply your every need,’ then He does it. If He says, ‘The Lord is the strength of my life,’ then He is.” In other words, real faith simply says about one’s self what the Word says.
Real faith is built on the Word. We should meditate on the Word; dig deeply into it and feed upon it. Then the Word becomes a part of us just as natural food becomes a part of our physical body when we eat. What natural food is to the physical man, the Word of God is to the spiritual man. The Word builds into us confidence and assurance.
Memory Text: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith in Action: “But be ye doers of the ward, and not hearers only ….” (James 1:22).