Seeing The Invisible
Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].
In every aspect of our lives, we exercise faith. We sit in a chair, having faith that it won’t collapse under our weight. When we come to a green light, we trust that cars coming the other way will stop because those drivers are facing a red light. When it comes to the spiritual realm, however, some of us think that we have nothing substantial on which to have our trust. But that’s not the case.
Though the spiritual realm is invisible, God has given us plenty of clues about His power, love, and faithfulness. Nature reveals the creativity and power of God, and the life of Christ is the supreme demonstration of God’s character and His purpose for us. Still, faith, by its nature, remains a mystery. We trust in God today, looking back at the substance of Creation, the life of Christ, and the stories of countless believers who found God to be faithful in their lives. The choice to trust Him today, however, is our challenge. We don’t see Him, and we don’t audibly hear Him, but God has given each of us a sense that He is there and that we can trust Him.
The preamble to the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 blends the two concepts: first, the utter reliability of God in the past and as seen in nature and, second, our trust in God’s invisible hand today. Faith stands on the past and confidently reaches out for the future, trusting that what God did in the past He will do one more time-for us.
Faith is a passionate intuition.
We spend a lot of time trying to describe faith and define what it is. But since faith is a spiritual thing, our human understanding falls short of being able to grasp what faith is. The writer of Hebrews uses the phrase, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…” That’s an interesting combination of words. First, we read that faith is “substance.” Webster defines substance as:
“a particular kind of matter with uniform properties”
“the real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence.”
So then faith is not a feeling nor is it subjective. Faith is tangible, something upon we we can find a solid place to stand. Faith doesn’t originate from the human mind or soul. We may have the capacity to believe but faith is a gift from God. In Ephesians we read:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
By grace….through faith…not from yourselves….it is the gift of God. So then faith isn’t the result of all our efforts. It is a transfer from God to us and what makes it substance is that faith originates from and rests on the very nature, character, and word of God. The validity of faith rests not in us but in God and His promises. We build our lives, hopes, and dreams on the sure foundation that God is and that since He never lies, we can trust His promises.
Some promote the idea that there are those who have been given great measures of faith in comparison to theirs but that has no support from scripture. As a matter of fact scripture paints the very opposite:
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
Notice that little word “the.” To every man the measure of faith. Why then are there those who have great faith while there are others who’s seem to have so little? The best way I can describe this is to ask us to consider that every human is given the same measure of muscle. Some exercise their muscles and build them up and others do nothing to strengthen theirs. Those who exercise grow stronger and those who don’t grow weaker. In the book of Jude we are instructed to go about building up our faith:
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,”
Jude says that we can build up our faith through prayer. Not just any prayer but prayer instituted, led, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we ought to invite the Holy Spirit to be our prayer partner. We ought to ask Him to help us pray in agreement with Him for Jesus told us that when two of us agree in prayer, whatever we ask the Father in His name we would receive. I can’t think of a better prayer partner than the Holy Spirit for He always knows the will of God.
The second interesting phrase in our passage today is “the evidence of things not (yet) seen.” In every court trial, evidence is important for it proves the case. We draw conclusions that things must be so because of evidence even if we haven’t seen the fullness of the situation. How can we trust that what we don’t yet see will come to pass? By the evidence. As we read about God’s actions in the past, as we remember His work in us, as we view creation and the intricate details of it, we find ample evidence with which to draw the conclusion that what God has promised will come to pass since He has kept His promises.
Joshua instructed the people of Israel to build a memorial on the banks of the Jordan River after God had opened the way and they had passed over safely. He had also instructed them to build a memorial in the river but he knew as soon as the river returned to full flow, that evidence would be hidden from view. Listen to his reason for erecting the memorial on the river bank:
“Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.”
Each time the children passed by those stones and asked the question, they heard the story of God’s mighty act. And every time they heard the story, their faith was built up so that they, too, might believe God for themselves. Their faith rested on the visible evidence of that stack of stones on the bank and on the substance of the invisible stack of stones in the river.
What then is the substance and evidence of our faith. Our substance is the empty cross and the empty tomb. Our evidence is provided by the more than five hundred who witnessed the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Furthermore the substance of faith is the very transformation of our own lives and hearts through salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The evidence is the outward visible change of habits and lifestyles and desires.
If you’re trying to trust God to meet some specific need in your life, let the substance of your Christian life and the evidence of your own transformation become the substance and evidence of what you hope for and have not yet seen.
Dr. John Thompson