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

Faith is to spiritual life what breathing is to physical life. Without faith we cannot have spiritual life or enjoy the benefits of a personal relationship with our Creator. Imagine the danger when so many definitions and illustrations of faith being written about and preached today often present us with unbiblical notions. This is spiritually equivalent to breathing polluted, poisonous air.

In order to avoid confusing teaching and false doctrine, we will examine this chapter of Scripture that talks more about faith than any other in the Bible. This will take us to the Source of truth about faith. Here we can find clean, pure air, so that we might breathe deeply and by faith accomplish great things for God.

In determining “What is faith?” we will look at Hebrews 11:1-2, and verse 6 in order to establish a working definition of faith and also to expose the wrong ideas, false doctrines, and misunderstandings about faith that abound in many so-called churches today.

Faith is essential for life and godliness. It is the first in a list of three things that are truly necessary for happiness and contentment, the other two being hope and love. However, much of what is being said about faith these days does not match what the Bible tells us about faith. Knowing what faith is, how it works, where it comes from, and what it can do will change our lives and impact our eternity. To say the least, it is an important topic to be understood. So where do we start?

We start by confessing that the Bible teaches that faith is an integral part of the gospel of Jesus Christ and therefore necessary for salvation. We see from the pages of Scripture that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We must understand that the Bible commands us often to believe in Christ – to trust Him, to take God at His Word.

Colossians 2:6 tells us, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” How do we receive Christ? We receive Him by faith. That faith, given to us by the Holy Spirit as a free gift of God’s grace through the power of the Word of God, is a part of every moment of life (and even death) for those who have believed in Jesus Christ.

What exactly is faith? According to some out there it is a spiritual force that can be harnessed and used for our benefit. Others say that faith is being positive, be it positive thinking or positive speaking. Definitions also include referring to faith as will power, or the ability to survive hard circumstances with an assurance that everything will be okay.

If we really want to know what faith is then all we have to do is read and understand our Bibles. Forget what many of the TV preachers say. Forget all the new age teaching about speaking with faith to tell your wallet to be fat and your body thin. Especially forget about those who tell us that we have to prove our faith by sending God our money, care of their address. These blab it and grab it, name it and claim it charlatans have faith in only one thing, their power to sell us a bill of goods.

The Bible makes it clear that faith is a gift of God; however, that is still not enough to help us define what faith actually is. So back to the question, “What is faith?” Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There, now we know, right? Or is it really that simple?

Yes, it really is that simple, but we need to make sure we understand what this verse is saying. All too often people quote Bible verses over and over and yet never really grasp what they mean. What does it mean when we are told “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen?”

First, to define the term, faith means belief, or trust. It refers to finding something or someone reliable. To have faith in someone is to trust them. Biblically speaking, it is not ever a blind trust either, by the way. True faith is not blind at all. It is not a leap in the dark. Faith comes from the Word of God (Romans 10:17), so we understand that this trust, this deep abiding belief, is based on revealed truth, specifically on the truth of God’s Word. As God reveals Himself to us through His Word He gives us faith, that is, the ability to believe Him.

It is also not enough to think that faith is belief in God. “Even the demons believe”, James tells us (James 2:19). They know Who God is and that makes them tremble with fear. Faith is not merely belief in God, it is actively believing God. It is also not a belief about God, it is a trust that serves as the foundation of a personal relationship. We take God at His Word, we trust Him, we believe Him, we know Him.

In Hebrews 11 we see that this trust is the “substance of things hoped for.” The word substance means literally “existence” and refers to having the most solid possible conviction and absolute assurance of reality. This deep abiding trust in Christ gives substance to a reality for which we hope. We believe that the Word of God is true and that God meant what He said, and we take Him at His Word, having His Word give actual substance to our hopes. Faith makes our hope a tangible reality.

Think of it this way, because we have faith we do not just believe that Jesus exists, we know He exists. How do we know this? Through faith we know Him. Our faith proves He is real, that He is who He said He is, and we have a relationship with Him. Jesus is not an imaginary friend or a make believe superhero that we manifest in our minds to cope with reality. No, Jesus is real, and we know Him because of our faith. Faith gives substance to our hopes.

Further, faith is the “evidence of things not seen.” Here the word evidence means “proof.” It is the proving of unseen things, an inner conviction about what is real and what is not. It is supporting evidence. Faith gives us proof that the Word of God is true and that Jesus is Lord. It provides us with an inner conviction of things we cannot see. We know it is real; we are sure even though we cannot see it with our eyes.

There is also an assurance that comes with true faith, not just a flimsy hope or a false glimmer of truth and reality. We are assured of what is true and real. The atheist may think that there is not a God, but we know better.

Through faith we know God. The atheist’s faith is placed in himself and in his ability to think through questions and contradictions, but the logic and wisdom of men is foolishness to God (1 Corinthians 3:19). The atheist may think he is right, but he can never be sure, he can never know with any degree of certainty other than to trust his own mind. To know that God does not exist one would have to know all that is, and then realize that there is no God. Yet for us, those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, we know who He is, not because we dream up this hope. This is no delusion of grandeur. We know Him because we are His.

We see then that faith is the most solid possible conviction and absolute assurance of that for which we hope, and it is the proof and inner conviction of the reality of things we cannot see with our eyes.