On Faith and Things Hoped For


(This post is part of a series. For an introduction to the topic read, “How ought we read the Bible?” To see all posts in this topic, go to “Does the Bible really say that?”)


“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Heb. 11:1 (NIV)

This is one way I hear this verse recited. And it’s entirely true. I have a problem with the context people apply it to though. Usually, I hear people invoking this verse when they want something to happen. They have faith that they will get a job, faith that God will heal a family member, faith that something good is around the corner. The only problem with it is that is not what the passage is about!

 Are we supposed to have faith? Absolutely! But what is the object of our faith?

I am concerned that fewer and fewer Christians know what Christianity really is. They "believe in Jesus", they “get saved”, then they go on their merry way reciting verses they've seen on magnets and bumper stickers.  The rampant misapplication of everything biblical on so-called “Christian” television network and books doesn’t help anything either.

In his book, "What is the Gospel?", Greg Gilbert does a great job laying out the basics of the gospel message, which quite sadly, is lost on many Christians and even entire churches.

I got some interesting feedback on my Facebook page when I summarized a passage from the book. Here is the post, along with some followup:

“The word ‘faith’ has been misused for so long that few even know what it means. To most, it means belief in the ridiculous against all evidence. But faith is not believing in something you cannot prove. Biblically speaking, it is better summarized by words like trust, reliance, or confidence.

In the Hebrews 11:1 passage, faith isn’t the “things hoped for” or the “things not seen”. It is the assurance and the confidence. To use a poor analogy, faith is not some illogical belief I hold that magic will occur when I swipe my ATM card. It is the confidence I have that the bank will back me up as they agreed to. Faith is my reliance that God is who he said he is. The “things hoped for” refers to the gospel message itself.”

Of course we should have faith. But faith in what? If you read the rest of Hebrews 11, these people were all placing their faith in God. When this passage is viewed against the rest of scripture (Romans 4, for instance) it becomes clear that the things that these people of faith did were not what saved them. They were not saved by their works. However, their faith was credited to them as righteousness because it indicated the condition of their heart. Now, this should be nothing new for a Christian to hear. Yet many will hear this and still misuse the verse.

Let's break down some phrases in the passage: 

  • Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    What is it that "we" hope for? It's not a job or a car - those are things that individuals hope for. There are verses that address prayer, God's will, our desires and how they interact, but this is not one of them. What we hope for (collectively, and according to the whole of the Bible) is eternal life in God's presence where the effects of sin are gone and life is as God intended for it to be. 

  • Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    What is certainty? It's not white-knuckled hope. It's definitely not blind. Where can things like certainty and assurance come from? Not from ourselves. Not even from others. The only place certainty could come from is God. We are contingent - he is necessary. We are fallible, he is not. We change, he is immutable. Certainty can haven nothing to do with us, because we are dust in the wind. This verse cannot in any way depend on us.

  • Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    So, what does it depend on? This verse is all about the subject of our faith - not the strength or tenacity of our faith. This is about God being a sure and trustworthy basis, not about us getting what we believe in.


So, what do we do with this?

  • God can heal and he does – when he chooses to.
  • God does provide those things we need – based on his definition of need, not ours.
  • God does his will in his timing.

Our faith should not be in what God will do, as much as it should be in who he is. The faith we have is in the gospel:  God created everything, including us. We rebelled, committing treason against our king. He furnished the ransom necessary to restore us to relationship with him. His actions demand a response. This is where our faith lies. In these things alone. God will take care of us, but our reliance is on him, not on real or perceived promises.