In Hebrews 11:1, we are told that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Reading that over once, it sounds familiar and maybe lilting for spirits longing to grab hold of faith.
But have you ever wondered what it really means? Or does faith still float away as an obscure concept beyond the grasp of realism?
The Bible says we are saved by grace, through faith—I’d dare say this is an important word to wrestle with! So let’s pull it apart.
The substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things unseen.
What is substance? In the Strong’s Concordance, the word substance means a foundation, or a real structure, that inspires confident assurance. Back in context, faith is the confident structure of what we hope for.
So what are we hoping for?
The Bible tells us in Titus 2:11-13 that grace gives us access to salvation and teaches us to deny ungodliness and the things of this world, and instead to look for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus.
By faith, we believe that Jesus is our salvation from sin and sin’s consequences, including, ultimately, death. Faith is therefore our sure foundation—our assurance—that Jesus is coming back for His Bride, reigning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and separating sin and death from God and His redeemed creation for all eternity.
In our hope, we watch and wait—with eyes looking at what is unseen rather than what is seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Temporal no longer reigns for those who walk by faith, we’ve stepped into the realm of the eternal.
So now, how is faith the evidence of things unseen? What does that mean? Doesn’t the world love to garble about seeing is believing?
Seeing is believing when you don’t have eyes of faith. Jesus alone lifts the veil, allowing access into the mysteries of God by faith. It could be said, then, that in the kingdom of God believing is seeing.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
What kind of power?
to enter the throne room of grace with boldness and find help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16)
to cast off fear with perfect love by the Spirit who gives us power, love, and sound/disciplined minds (2 Timothy 1:7)
to be established as more than conquerors in any situation (Romans 8:37)
to know beyond a shadow of doubt that the word of God is living and active, sharper than a sword, useful for teaching and training in righteousness, and our offense in spiritual warfare (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 6:17)
So then, in faith, we see evidence of the promises of God’s faithfulness. We have confidence to come before Him with requests and the assurance from His word that He will supply our every need according to the glorious riches in Christ (Philippians 4:19).
Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3 that we can recognize the Spirit like we recognize wind. We can’t see the wind itself, but we see the effects of the wind as it rustles the leaves on the trees. That’s evidence. The Spirit is moving, and we have access to confirmation of it by faith.
The question now becomes, how does one get better at living by faith?
Time and again, Jesus called out the disciples and other followers for their faith, or their lack of faith. Faith matters. It’s worth investing in, like the command to store up treasures in heaven.
Faith is not superficial. It’s not aloof. Paul explains this in Romans 10:8-11,
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (ESV)
It’s near. It’s tangible. Faith is in our hearts and our mouths by believing and confessing Christ Jesus as Lord. It’s dependable; it won’t put us to shame. This is the faith that saves us, and it’s also the faith that sanctifies our spirits making us more and more like Christ as we await the blessed hope of His return. In faith, we can choose to deny the flesh and live by the Spirit.
Paul explains this further in Romans 10:17,
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)
To hear the word of Christ is to be filled with faith. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) as much as He is in the word. We know Him through God’s word and our faith grows by partaking of the word.
The world offers many voices to listen to, many opportunities to hear wondrous things. In as much as seeing is believing to those who are perishing, so too can it be said that hearing is believing. The concept is based in the natural but perfected in the spiritual. We therefore have only one source to grow our faith: hearing Christ, through God’s word.
Assurance grows the more we feast on the word of God; evidence stacks higher than the tallest mountain. The promise remains:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”