12th February 2024

'John Piper explains'



"What Faith Knows and Hopes For"

As we begin our exposition of Hebrews 11, we need to see why it's here and what it has to do with your life.

People who risk property and life in order to bring the love of God to others.
People who do not look for comforts and ease and security as a necessary thing in life.
People who are free from the assumptions of style and safety and wealth and leisure.
People who know there is one life to live and only what's done in the name of Christ and for the eternal good of others will count in the end.

And what verse 34 makes clear is that the way such a life comes about is by an unshakable hope in God beyond this life.
The power to be joyfully sacrificial in the path of love is "knowing that you have a better possession beyond the grave."
If this life is a brief preparation for eternal joy - a "better possession and abiding one" - then you are free to risk your life and your property in this world because, as Paul said,

"The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

So the whole book of Hebrews is written to give foundation to the hope that is the foundation of a life of radical, risk-taking, sacrificial love.

Chapter 11 begins with a definition of faith that links it with hope, and then goes on to show how this hope gave power for all kinds of radical obedience.
Chapter 11 is a catalogue of people who illustrate that this kind of faith - the assurance of things hoped for - really makes a difference in life.

The first task we have in this new chapter is to understand more exactly what faith is.
That's what verse 1 gives us - a twofold definition of faith.
Let's look at both parts, one at a time: "Now faith is (1) the assurance of things hoped for, (2) the conviction of things not seen."

There is more here than meets the eye at first.
The word for "assurance" in the first definition and the word for "conviction" in the second definition, are unusual words and very difficult to translate into English.
You may remember the old King James Version:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

These words "substance" and "evidence" are, in fact, very serious and important translations. What is the reality behind these two words and these two definitions of faith?

This is not merely academic. Just ask yourself this question: do you have faith?
How do you know you have faith?
What is faith, so that you can know you have it?
What hangs on whether you have faith or not?
You can see that this question is immensely practical and relevant to your life. "Conviction" or "Evidence"?

Let's start with the second definition first:
"Faith is the conviction or (the evidence) of things not seen."
The word for "conviction" or "evidence" is not used anywhere else in the New Testament.
Outside of the New Testament, its normal use is "proof" or "argument" or "evidence" - something objective - about the world rather than subjective about how we feel about the world.

Most translators don't use the old word, "proof" or "evidence," because it doesn't seem to make sense. How can faith be evidence or proof?
Verse 3 says,

"By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible."

Do you see the connection?
Verse 1 says "faith is the evidence of things not seen," and verse 3 says that faith understands that the world - what is seen - was made out of what is not seen - the word of God.

Here's the question:
How do we know that God made the world out of nothing that is seen?
Not only were we not there when it happened, but, even if we had been there, we would not have been able to see the act of creation, because you can't see the word of God.
So how can we know or "understand" that the worlds were made by the word of God?
Verse 3 answers, "by faith."

I take my clue from the one other place in the New Testament where God's invisible attributes are said to be "clearly seen" by man, namely, Romans 1:20.

"Since the creation of the world God's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood by what has been made."

The word "understood" here in Romans 1:20 is the same word as in Hebrews 11:3, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God."

What shall we make of it?
Here's what I make of it.
Faith - at least in part - is the spiritual seeing or perceiving of the fingerprints of God on the things he has made.

Un-edited version, (MUCH MORE) available on request

John Piper
(@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy.


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