“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.” (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)
In Hebrews 10:39 we are told that followers of Christ “are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” What kind of faith preserves our souls?
Faith is described as an “assurance” and “conviction” (Heb. 11:1). The Greek word for “assurance” can mean either the substance or essence of something or a confident trust/assurance in something. While some versions translate it as “substance,” it most likely carries the meaning of “confident assurance” here in similarity to the word to follow (“conviction”). The word “conviction” has a similar idea. It speaks of convincing proof or evidence that gives assurance. Taken together these two words describe faith as a confident assurance based on God-given conviction. God has convinced us of spiritual realities in which we confidently trust.
This biblical description of faith flies in the face of postmodern thinking that says we cannot be dogmatic or confident about anything. They say we cannot know absolute truth or possess certainty about it. But the Bible says that faith is a deep-rooted assurance and conviction.
If we stopped here our description of faith would be incomplete. Faith is not some general, confident assurance in anything. It has specific objects. What are the objects of such faith? First, it is the assurance “of things hoped for.” These “things” are future promises of God. Faith and hope are closely related. Hope is essentially faith in the future grace that is coming from God. Faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for from God will come to pass. Our hope includes the return of Christ (Heb. 9:28) and a better possession and reward (Heb. 10:34-35). Faith is being assured of the future blessings God has promised.
The second object of faith is the conviction “of things not seen.” This speaks of spiritual realities that are invisible. In our world, evidence which is presented to convince people of truth is normally something that can be physically seen and touched. But faith is convinced of what cannot be perceived by physical eyesight. Faith lays hold of the unseen and believes what God has said in his Word. It is convinced of spiritual truth that can only be seen through eyes of faith. This would include not only the future promises of hope but also the accomplished work of Christ in the gospel, His present ministry as our High Priest, and the present benefits of our salvation.
In summary, faith is the confident assurance and conviction that who God is and what He says is true in regard to hoped-for things and unseen things. By faith we can and should be certain about God’s truth revealed to us in His Word.
This faith is what pleases God. The “people of old” – the saints listed in Hebrews 11 – received commendation from God for this kind of faith (Heb. 11:2). The kind of faith described in v. 1 is the faith commended in v. 2. In other words, God is pleased by faith that confidently trusts Him, especially in regard to things unseen and unrealized.
Christian, persevere in your faith in God and His Word. For by such faith you will preserve your soul and please God.