Hebrews 11 is known as the “faith chapter” of the Bible, for in it we find the definition of faith and it lists several characters from Scripture who exemplified faith. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (11:1-3). Everybody has faith in something. The question is not, “Will you have faith,” but rather, “What will you have faith in?” While we place our faith in God as Christians, others place their faith in themselves, their rationality, science, celebrities, even the existence of extraterrestrial life. As Christians, we call people to have faith in Christ—in things that cannot be seen or fully explained because we cannot fully understand everything. However, wanting to put their faith in more tangible things that make themselves feel good and receive acceptance from the world, they refuse. While everyone has faith in something, our faith as Christians sets us apart from everyone else, for the faith we have in Christ calls us to live in the world while not being of the world (John 17:16)—though we live in the world, we do not belong to it. The central point of our faith sets us apart in that we receive our “commendation”—that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1).
It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews makes this central point of our faith the middle—or centre—of verses 1-3. I’m not going to give a lengthy expository about faith because this is not an academic paper, but I will discuss a few important aspects.
Justification by Faith
The material principle of Lutheran doctrine, and what we believe to be the foundation of Christianity, is justification by faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). All other religions of the world, including atheism, seek to justify themselves by their own works. But we are sinners and can never perform the amount of good works necessary to justify ourselves. Our constant evil words, thoughts, actions, and idolatrous behaviours prove this. Instead, Christ did the works for us by fulfilling the Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17), and thus justifies us by faith. All we have to do is believe in Christ and we will be saved (John 11:25; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9), which this ability is only granted through conversion enacted by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), not our own doing, for it is God who draws us near to Him (John 6:44) to make this confession. What an amazing gift indeed.
The Greek word for “faith” is πίστις (pistis), which is defined as “belief or confidence evoked by another’s reputation for trustworthiness” (Danker, 285). This definition works well with Scripture’s definition in Hebrews; it is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In Christianity, then, there is no such thing as blind faith. In fact, there’s no such thing as blind faith in anything, for faith always has an object. The object of our faith is Christ, in whom we have the complete and utter trust based on His reputation and earned trustworthiness as the One God. Ever since the Fall of Man, God promised He would send a Messiah to save us, and several thousand years later, He kept His promise. Therefore, the belief and confidence we have in the salvation we receive from Christ in which we have not yet seen is based on the reputation of God keeping His promises. In contrast to this, many put their faith in science, or the evolutionary theory, because of the reputation based upon the myriad of scientists’ findings, despite its plethora of alterations and inconsistencies.
Faith Moves Mountains
God does some additional amazing things with our faith. Jesus said faith as small as a mustard seed has the power to move mountains (Matthew 17:20). Not literal mountains, but God does give us the ability to move mountains of negative emotions and temptation. One of the ways in which God helps us to overcome powerful, negative emotions and temptations is through the love of our Christian brethren. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Jesus’ entire ministry is known for reversing the pattern of thinking that the world practises. How the Graeco-Roman world thought philosophically is not much different than how we think today (i.e. reliance on sight rather than faith). Jesus’ list of the beatitudes is one of these ways in which He reversed worldly thinking. The world doesn’t think of someone in mourning as being blessed. But Jesus says when a Christian brother or sister mourns, they are blessed because we all stop to mourn with them and give them comfort. We don’t ignore the cause of their sadness or the sorrow they’re feeling, but we stop to mourn with them and give them comfort. This is, indeed, a great blessing to have. This comfort is one of the vital reasons for going to church in order to engage in Christian fellowship. Through the Spirit, Paul said Jesus “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). When God comforts us through the Spirit or through other Christians (who have the Spirit in them and thus enables Christ’s comfort), we pass on this comfort to others. Faith enables us to do this, and by faith God enables us to overcome these mountainous emotions and temptations. God also helps us to endure temptation through faith (1 Corinthians 10:13). God declares us as saints justified in Christ, but we still struggle with the reality of sin, and through faith He enables us to endure them and overcome them.
Faith As A Defence
Faith also gives us the ability to “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). When we become Christian, Satan paints a bull’s eye on our backs and colours it in, and he starts to throw all sorts of temptations at us. As we continue to read this description of the armour of God in Ephesians, Paul says to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (v. 17). We see God’s effectiveness against Satan when he tempts Jesus in the desert. Every time Satan tempted Him, Jesus rebuked him with God’s Word even when Satan twisted God’s Word for his own purposes. After Jesus successfully rebuked him, he left, but only until a more opportune time (Luke 4:13). The same thing happens to us. As Christians, Satan throws all sorts of temptations at us, including the temptation to unbelief. Satan wants nothing more than for us to reject God and suffer eternal separation from Him in the burning pits of Hell. He will use any means necessary to do so, whether it’s persuading us to live in certain sins, or sending people like militant atheists who twist Scripture for their own wicked purposes, just like Satan himself did to Jesus in the wilderness.
However, by faith and knowing God’s Word, Jesus used the sword of the Spirit against him, and Satan ran. We are to do the same thing today. It is vital to continue learning Scripture and engaging daily in God’s Word to learn more about Him, and by faith He then gives us the ability to resist the Devil and those he sends in his stead. Satan will run when we rebuke him and those he sends when we use God’s Word as a defence, but he will come again at a more opportune time to try again. As a future pastor, I have to defend the faith all the time because atheists all over demand I explain why Scripture says something, or most commonly they’ll quote from Scripture (usually from the Law in the Old Testament, which was fulfilled and makes their argument invalid) in the effort to justify their unbelief. This is not surprising, considering their faith in themselves requires they justify themselves by their own works.
For an example of this, read my article with Geeks Under Grace called Twisting Scripture. I am only able to defend the faith so well because the Holy Spirit gives me the words to speak with my understanding and knowledge of Scripture (see Luke 12:11-12). As I’ve been writing this, for example, throughout writing this whole thing the Holy Spirit has been filling my mind with all the Scriptures you see in parentheses. Only by faith with the Holy Spirit within me am I able to say such things. While it is certainly helpful to do so, I didn’t sit down with all my books open and searched for Scriptures to support a pre-written thesis; I wrote it all in one sitting because the Holy Spirit enabled me. I was suddenly inspired to write this series and immediately knew what I ought to discuss, which is only because the Holy Spirit inspired me to do so. I didn’t plan on it; God planned on it. I don’t say this to boast, but to illustrate to you the faithfulness of God using the Holy Spirit within us to speak what we ought to speak. I wasn’t always like this in my faith, of course; certainly not in my beginning years as a Christian because I was not well-versed in the Scriptures. As I read more of Scripture throughout the years and listened to my pastors, suddenly God gave me this ability He promises to each of us. Without reading, knowing, and understanding Scripture and relying on the Holy Spirit, we cannot make such a defence.
Faith is Our Greatest Gift
There is no gift greater than faith and Christ in whom it rests upon because by faith, we never have to do anything alone again. By God’s grace through faith, He saves us and justifies us as righteous before Him in Christ. By faith, God enables us to move mountains of doubt, sorrow, temptation, whatever troubles us. By faith, we are able to defend what we believe through our gifted understanding of Scripture. Faith is this amazing gift in which God brings us from death to life (John 5:24; Romans 6:1-11) and raises us as new creations in Baptism (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Stay tuned for next time when we look at our first example of faith: Abel.
Danker, Frederick William. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.