In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle to the Hebrews gives what is perhaps the most quoted definition of faith by Christians, namely, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The word that is translated “things” in the English Standard Version is pragmaton, from whose root we get the English word pragmatic. When we speak of things pragmatic, we speak of things that are practical, of things that are put into action and are demonstrative. Therefore, I believe that the King James Version translates the passage rightly, saying, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Indeed this is valid in the context as well, for, in the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle shows, example after example, first the assurance and hope of faithful men of the past and then how that assurance and hope is manifested practically in the lives of those who had faith.
This translation is validated further by the testimony of the Scriptures, for true faith that rests in the blessed assurance of things to come always manifests in the lives of those who have faith. Thus, the brother of our Lord, James, writes in his letter:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Jm. 2:14-17).
Therefore, true faith, regardless of one’s testimony, always manifests itself by works. This is not to say, as some who have interpreted this passage have claimed, that our justification is based upon our works, but it is a declaration that true faith in God is demonstrated by how we live our lives. Thus, to the use James’s example following this passage, Abraham proved the faith that he had in God by his offering up of the son of Promise, Isaac, for he was convinced of the Promise and faithfulness of God and that God was capable, if necessary, to raise Isaac up from the dead, for Abraham’s God is a God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rm. 4:17; cf. Heb. 11:19). For this reason, “God is not ashamed to be called [his] God” (Heb. 11:16), for in Abraham’s total lack of distrust and his continual strengthening in faith, he always gave glory to God (cf. Rm. 4:20).
Therefore, this overview of the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews will be an observation of the faith of godly men of old and how they demonstrated their faith in the promised Inheritance by their actions in their particular contexts. We who claim to have faith should be convicted by this passage to live lives that testify to the greatness of our God and our future Inheritance in our particular contexts, thereby running the race of our lives without weighty encumbrances by ” looking to Jesus, the founder and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). May we therefore, by our lives of faith, be as salt and light to a dark world.