What is Faith?

What is Faith?

Text: Hebrews 11:1-2

How Does the Bible Define Faith? Hebrews 11:1

  • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for
  • Faith is the conviction of things not seen

Why Does Our Faith Matter?

Hebrews 11:2 — By faith the people of old received their commendation

  • It’s the means to our salvation
  • It pleases God
  • It enables us to do the work of God
  • It erases our fears
  • It rubs off on others

How Do We Apply Faith?

  • Faith is not a feeling
  • Faith acts in the face of doubt
  • Faith sees what others do not
  • Faith is only as strong as its object


  • If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small
  • the domino chain reaction
  • Faith isn’t linear. Faith is exponential.

Opening: Today, we’re going to begin a new preaching series I’m calling Unstoppable Faith. Given that we’re undertaking to do something that, well quite frankly, demands a lot of faith (starting a new church from the ground up), I thought this was a good topic for our first study. And it seems to me that there is no better passage to turn to in an attempt to learn about the subject of faith than Hebrews 11, known to many as the great Hall of Faith. Now there are a couple of good reason for thinking of it in this way. First, the Greek word “pistis” which means “faith” is found twenty-five times in the chapter’s forty verses. And second, the writer of Hebrews mentions no less than sixteen people by name and a host of others known only to God as examples of men and women of great faith in this passage. Taken together they serve to demonstrate what it means for us to put our trust in the Lord. Unfortunately, many people today misunderstand what faith is. They think of it as believing in something you know isn’t true or at best positive thinking. But faith is much more than that. It is the willingness to take God at His word, to believe His promises to us no matter what we’re facing in life. I’m thinking about the kind of trust and belief in God that keeps us growing and causes others to stand up and take notice. I recently came across this story of a nun who worked for a local home health care agency. One day she was out dressed in her habit and making her rounds when her car ran out of gas. Fortunately, there was a station just down the street. She made the short walk and politely asked to borrow a can so she could fill it with enough gas to start her car and drive it back for a fill up. Very apologetically, the attendant told her that the only can he owned had just been loaned out, but if she would care to wait he was sure it would be back shortly. The nun was, however, late for her next appointment, so she walked back to her car and searched for a container that would carry some gas. She spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, she carried it to the station, filled it with gasoline, and took it back to her car. As she was pouring the gas into the tank, two Baptist deacons on their way to Wednesday night prayer meeting drove by. Astonished by the nun pouring the contents of the bedpan into her car, one of them turned to the other and said: “Now that’s what I call faith!” Well, maybe not! But it is true that faith is one of those things that is better modeled than explained. In other words, we know it when we see it. Maybe you know someone personally whose faith has served as an inspiration to you. If it has, I’m going to suggest that adversity played a significant role in increasing that person’s faith. Here’s why: BECAUSE FAITH THAT IS NEVER TESTED WILL ALWAYS BE WEAK! And that brings us to the list of great saints mentioned in Hebrews 11…all of whom were people whose faith was tested as they trusted the Lord through seemingly impossible circumstances. And we can to! So I invite you to join me in a study of Unstoppable Faith. Let’s begin where the writer of this short passage does … with a definition of faith.


How Does the Bible Define Faith? Hebrews 11:1

  • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Hope in the Bible refers to the expectation of a certain future. In other words, hope isn’t simply wishful thinking like … I hope it doesn’t rain on your wedding day. Or in my case, I hope were not having salad for lunch. No, hope is much more than that. It’s the assurance that comes from knowing that God’s promises are written in stone! The foundation for our hope is our faith in God! We are so sure that He is true to His Word that we confidently trust His promises to come true no matter what else is going on around us. After all the Bible says that God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:9). So faith is taking God at His word so that you are supremely confident He will keep it.
  • Faith is the conviction (legal proof) of things not seen. This is another way of saying that faith enables us to see things with our spiritual eyes that the naked eye often cannot. By faith, we see that God is in the process of accomplishing His good, perfect and acceptable will in everything He does. Illustration: Take death as an example. Do you remember the story of Lazarus who died and was put in a tomb in John 11. Four days after his death, Jesus came to his sisters, Mary and Martha, and spoke these words … “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Jesus meant them to be more than just a comfort to the women. They were declaring an absolute promise from the Son of God that death would not maintain its hold over those who trusted in Him. After Jesus said this, He walked to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. Along the way He encountered many mourners who were completely overcome by the passing of their friend and loved one. The Bible says that when Jesus saw them, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Perhaps a better English translation would be to say that He was angry and agitated. Why would mourners affect our Lord this way? The answer is simple: They didn’t believe that He could do anything about Lazarus’ death. They saw only with their naked eyes that their friend was dead and gone and failed to exercise any kind of spiritual faith to see the unseen … that Jesus, the Son of God, had power over death. That kind of faith does not weep as those who have no hope! SO FAITH IS THE CERTAINTY OF THINGS HOPED FOR, THE PROOF OF THINGS NOT VISIBLE TO THOSE WHO HAVE NO FAITH.


Why Does Our Faith Matter? Hebrews 11:2 — By faith the people of old received their commendation (a good report). It’s as if they received A’s on their spiritual report cards and all because they were willing to trust God to keep His WORD. Why is this kind of faith so commendable? God enjoys it when we walk by faith in Him. Here are a few of the benefits to the believer who puts His faith in God according to the Scriptures.

  • It’s the means to our salvation. People are rescued from the penalty of sin, eternal death, and receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9 — For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no man should boast). Without personal faith in Christ, it is impossible to go to heaven. It’s that important!
  • It pleases God. It isn’t by keeping a set of rules that one pleases Him. That was God’s point to Israel in Jeremiah 6:20What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? (these were used by the priests in the temple) Your burnt offerings are not acceptable. Your sacrifices do not please me. The people of God were carrying out the rituals of temple worship but their hearts were far from him, so He rejected their sacrifices. Here in Hebrews 11 (verse six), we’re told why. Because without faith it’s impossible to please God. That’s how much God wants us to trust in Him. We can do what He commands, but if they’re not done in faith, they are empty and meaningless. I find it interesting that to my knowledge Jesus only ever rebuked His disciples for two things: a lack of love (Luke 9:55) and a lack of faith (Mark 16:14 –Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves…and He rebuked them for their unbelief). FAITH PLEASES GOD!
  • It enables us to do the work of God. The power to walk with God and serve Him comes to us as we put our trust in Him and are filled with His Spirit. In Acts 3 Peter and John were making their way to the temple for prayer when they saw a man near the entrance who was crippled from birth. He was difficult to ignore as he cried out for alms. While they had no money to speak of, the disciples had something much better to offer the man. Peter said, “Silver or God I do not have, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (this is the evidence of faith — the conviction of things unseen), walk.” Then he took the man by the hand, helped him up and instantly, he was able to walk. Peter and John were no different than any of us, but God had given them the power to perform signs and wonders and they had enough faith to step out and believe that they could help a man crippled from birth. AS IT DID FOR THEM, FAITH ENABLES US TO DO THE WORK OF GOD.
  • It erases our fears (Proverbs 29:25 — The fear of man lays a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be safe). Listen, the opposite of fear is not courage … it’s faith. Fear and faith are incompatible. You cannot be filled with both at the same time. The moment you exercise faith is the same moment when your fears must retreat. I like how one person put it: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.” IF YOU WANT TO GET RID OF YOUR FEARS, INCREASE YOUR FAITH.
  • It rubs off on others. One person’s faith can encourage another believer to trust God. Have you had that experience yet? You saw a Christian who stepped out and trusted God with something, and as a result, you felt emboldened to do the same. I think this is what Paul is saying in Romans 1:12 — that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. To encourage people is to put courage into them to face one of life’s challenges head-on. That’s what we can do for each other when we place our faith in the Lord. Illustration: I haven’t talked to you much about the end of my ministry at CLCBC, and that’s been intentional. I want to focus on what God has in store for us here at River Ridge and not what we can see in the rearview mirror. However, I’ll tell you this: The day I was encouraged to resign as the senior pastor, I have to confess that I didn’t see it coming. It caught me completely by surprise. Emotionally, it felt like I was in the midst of a divorce that I didn’t seek or want. And I didn’t do very well for a while. It was hard to pick up my Bible and read and even harder to pray. Had it not been for the encouragement of some dear brothers and sisters in Christ whose faith hard been strengthened through their own fiery trials, I think I’d still be in the same kind of spiritual funk. But they called, they prayed, they listened and they shared with me their own faith journeys and in the end gave me the courage to trust the Lord with my future. And for that I will always be grateful.


How Do We Apply Faith? Just a few thoughts that I have to share with you about the nature of faith.

  • Faith is not a feeling. It’s a conscious choice to trust God based on His character and word. As long as we choose to live by our feelings, we will never progress in the Christian life. Think about it in light of Hebrews 11. If Noah had chosen to live by his emotions, he would not have put in all the time and hard work to build an ark that would ultimately preserve the human race and every kind of animal that walked on the ground or winged creature that flew through the air. If Abraham had chosen to act on his feelings over faith, he would have remained in Haran with his family and missed out on all the blessings God had in store for him and us in the land he was to receive. It isn’t that emotions are bad, they are just not the foundation for true faith. I have noticed, however, that frequently feelings of peace, contentment and joy are often the product of it.
  • Faith acts in the face of doubt. Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty. We all experience it, especially when we’re attempting to do something that we know could easily result in failure if God doesn’t show up. But here’s the thing about doubt. If we always wait until we have none before we act, we will very likely never step out in faith? When David took on Goliath, he believed that God would deliver the uncircumcised Philistine into his hands, but it still took a lot of faith to face the giant! When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose the fiery furnace over bowing down to an image of gold, they believed God would deliver them, though they acknowledged the possibility that they could die. They just knew what they had to do. As Christians, God often calls us to step out in faith and act, not knowing what the outcome will be. We may have some doubts, but faith dictates that we obey and trust the Lord with the outcome!
  • Faith sees what others do not. Phil Yancey says, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” How many things that God calls us to do make little sense to us at first? When God led me on staff with CCC, most of my family thought I was crazy. I didn’t know how He would use me in the ministry or the ministry in me, that only came later. I just knew that it was His call on my life. Now God doesn’t always guarantee that exercising faith in Him now will result in gaining answers later. Sometimes we never know this side of heaven why He wanted us to do something. But faith says that we are willing to trust God’s promises before we ever know what’s going to happen as a result.
  • Faith is only as strong as its object. Jesus never instructed His followers to put their faith in anyone but God (John 14:1 — You believe in God, believe also in Me). There are a lot of things we can put our faith in … bank accounts, people, accomplishments etc. But the only object worthy of our faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. Some people say that the put their trust in Him, but then behave as if He doesn’t exist. If we truly believe in Jesus, then we take Him at His Word and it shows up in our lives.


Conclusion: My niece, Kimmy, gave me a book to read a couple of weeks ago, by Mark Batterson, to encourage me to show courageous faith as we launch River Ridge Church. The book is called Chase the Lion. The tag line for it is … if your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small. The title was inspired by a line in 2 Samuel 23:20 about a man named Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, who followed a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killed it. Now you’d have to admit that doesn’t seem to be the normal reaction for most people who see an uncaged lion. Usually, they run as fast as possible in the other direction, but not Benaiah.  He saw it as his mission to eliminate that threat and that’s exactly what he did. Batterson writes this book to encourage people to exercise great faith. In chapter 16 he shares an illustration of what a believer’s faith in God can accomplish. He cites an article published in 1983 by a man named Lorne Whitehead about the domino chain reaction. You can picture it in your mind, can’t you? You knock over a domino, and it sets off a chain reaction that can knock down hundreds of dominoes in a matter of seconds. But the unique significance of Whitehead’s research was discovering that a domino is capable of knocking over another domino that is one-and-a-half times its size. So a two-inch domino can topple a three-inch domino. A three-inch domino can topple a four-and-a-half-inch domino. And a four-and-a-half-inch domino can topple a … well, you get the point. If you actually started with a two inch domino and each succeeding one was one and a half times larger, by the time you get to the eighteenth domino, you could knock over the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Of course, it’s leaning so that’s not fair. The twenty-third domino could knock over the Eiffel Tower. And by the time you get to the twenty-ninth domino, you could take down the Empire State Building. Let me explain how this works. In the realm of mathematics, there are two types of progression: linear and exponential. Linear progression is two plus two equals four. Exponential progression is compound doubling. Two times two equals four. If you take thirty linear steps, you’re ninety feet from where you started. But if you take thirty geometric steps, you’ve circled the earth twenty-six times! Now listen to this: Faith isn’t linear. Faith is exponential. Every decision we make, every step of faith we take, has a chain reaction. And those chain reactions set off a thousand other chain reactions we aren’t even aware of. The key is that we start with the first step … the first domino, if you will. As we step out in faith, we will see our ability to trust God grow exponentially and who knows? Maybe someday our names will be mentioned alongside of Noah’s, Abraham’s and the others’ found in the Hall of Faith.