Hebrews 11:1 and Faith

We can be assured that God will bring us blessings, even if we can’t see them all now!

Hebrews 11:1 has a definition of “faith” that is important to understand. The context of Hebrews 11, starting in Hebrews 10, is trusting God, and more specifically, trusting that what God says is coming in the future will occur. For example:

Hebrews 10:36
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

God says we will receive what He promised, but how do we really know that? We know it by having faith in God, and that is the point of His defining “faith” at this juncture in Scripture. The Greek word translated “faith” means “trust,” and although we know what “trust” is, God makes the definition clear in Hebrews.

Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) [1]
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

As we study this verse, we will see that it gives a very good definition of “trust,” written in two different ways. However, to understand the definition, we must understand the vocabulary that God uses. For example, the word “hope” was commonly used in the Greek world, and in this context means, “expect.” [2] The word “conviction” means to be convinced of something.

When we trust someone, what does that mean? It means that we have an “assurance” that what he says is true, so we “expect” it to come to pass. Or, as the last phrase in the verse says, we have a conviction that what the person says will come to pass even though we do not see it yet.

We could expand Hebrews 11:1, using somewhat different vocabulary, as follows:

Now trust is having assurance that the things we expect (due to what the person said) will indeed happen.

Now trust is being convinced about things that have not happened yet, and therefore remain unseen.

What is clear from the above statements is that when you trust someone, you expect that what he or she says will happen, and are convinced about it, even though it has not happened yet and is therefore still unseen. Trust is an essential part of day-to-day life, and if we did not trust people, life would be very difficult. We are constantly trusting people to do what they say, but when it becomes clear that someone is untrustworthy, we move on and work with people who do what they say they will.

For example, when you go on vacation you may have a friend you trust go to your house every couple of days and water the plants, get the mail, and make sure everything is okay. Because you trust your friend, you do not worry about the house because you have an “assurance” and are “convinced” that what you “expect” will happen even though you do not “see” it. On the other hand, if you do not really trust the person (say it is a teenager who has good intentions but forgets a lot), then you have no “assurance” that the work you “expect” to get done will get done, and you are not “convinced” about that which you cannot see.

Once we understand what God is saying in Hebrews 11:1, we understand why this important verse is where it is in Scripture. God said in Hebrews 10 that Christ will come and reward those people who stand for him and endure through the difficulties that accompany being a bold Christian, including “sufferings,” “…being made a public spectacle…,” “reproaches and tribulations,” and even “…the seizure of your property…” (Heb. 10:32-34-NASB). The only way someone would joyfully accept such treatment is if he “trusted” that God’s promise of deliverance and reward, which he cannot see yet, was real. Thus God puts His definition of faith at this juncture to remind people that they can trust Him and expect their reward even though they do not see anything yet.

We face the same challenge today as the first-century Christians did some 2,000 years ago. God asks us to trust that He will reward us for standing up for Him. He needs us to be fellow-workers, praying and spreading the Gospel. If we do not trust Him, we will shrink back and avoid the conflict that accompanies taking a bold Christian stand. We, however, can and should boldly stand for God, being assured and convinced that we will receive the blessings we expect, even though we do not see them now.

Endnotes

[1] We use the New American Standard Bible here because the translator’s italicized words that were not in the Greek text, in this case, “things,” which is clearly implied but not in the Greek. The ESV, RSV, NRSV all have the same wording as the NASB, but do not italicize “things.”
[2] For a much more thorough explanation and definition of the word “hope,” see our book The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul, by John Schoenheit, pp. 1-3.

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