A Practical Kind of Faith
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 Part 2)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Faith in the most general sense of the word itself is a trust we put in something. The kind of faith that delivers us from sin and restores our fellowship with our Creator is special. It is a certainty God puts into our hearts when we are restored to fellowship with him. The barrier of our guilt is removed because Jesus Christ paid our debt of sin, and clothes us with his perfect righteousness.
This restoration opens our minds to see things as they really are. This true saving faith has God’s revealed truth as its object, and his promises as the rest for our souls. There ought to be practical outworkings of it in our lives and attitudes.
Faith that does not lead us to act upon that in which we say we fully trust, is a rather empty concept. Either we trust in God’s word or we don’t. We may have in immature understanding of what the Scriptures say, but once we know what God has said, we either trust it or dismiss it. There is a practical side of a true saving faith that continues to work in our lives after being adopted into the family of God.
Hebrews 11 is a good place to start in appreciating
that continuing work of Saving Faith.
Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11 is about the practical side of what faith does, rather than defining what faith is. It is a chapter about the heroes of the faith God implants into our hearts. They are individuals who in spite of their backgrounds, trusted what God made known to them, and acted upon it faithfully.
Sadly these words that begin the chapter have been misused to promote and to support a very unbiblical concept of faith. This verse gives us a helpful introduction to an important chapter of God’s word. If we misinterpret it, we confuse all that follows. This verse shows what a true faith accomplishes in us. It is a practical definition, rather than a strict explaining of the meaning of the word.
The verse begins with the word “Now.” This connects back to the previous chapter. There, in 10:38, the writer quotes from the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet had learned that instead of questioning God when troublesome things occur, we should live by faithfully trusting in his promises.
The verse quoted is Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” There the word translated “faith” is the Hebrew word emunah (אמוּנה). It is usually taken as meaning, “to be firm, faithful.” The upright, instead of being proud and trusting in himself or in his own judgment, trusts in God and in his promises without wavering from them.
This genuine kind of faith is also what James had in mind in his epistle. In James 1:22 it warns us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Then in the next chapter, James 2:17-19 says, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!”
When someone says he has faith in God, but lives as if his Creator was just a factual part of his life, he does no better than the demons. Simply trusting something to be true is not what saving faith means. Those who have a true kind of faith, show by their lives that it is genuinely produced by God. God never gives true faith to a person without also making changes in his heart and life.
The text tells us that true faith gives a foundation for our hope. It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, … .” Faith is not just things we hope will happen. It is not a mere wish, fantasy, or dream. It is the “confident reality” of things hoped for. The NASB translates it, “… the assurance of things hoped for …”
The Greek word that modifies the things hoped for in the originally inspired text is hupostasis (ὑποστασις). It is a compound word. “Hupo-” (ὑπο) is that which lies under something as it’s foundation. the word “stasis” (στασις) is that which exists, or stands upon it. Faith is that well supported hope God gives us in his word. True faith gives us confidence in the reality of the things God promises. It applies God’s words personally in our hearts. It goes beyond reciting theoretical creeds.
This confidence is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Faith is listed among the elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
1 Corinthians 12:3 shows that this inner trust comes only from the Spirit. It says, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
This verse is not just talking about saying the words “Jesus is Lord”. It means that no one can actually mean that they trust in Jesus as their Lord, unless the Spirit enables them by applying the finished work of Christ to them.
Jesus explained that this coming in faith is exclusively a work of God. In John 6:44-45 he said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
Faith is not just a blind trust. It is always faith in something in particular. The only proper thing for true faith to trust upon is the word of God. That is why in bringing the gospel to somebody we should not just ask them to have faith in whatever it is they believe God is. We need to make sure they are trusting in God’s promises in Christ as revealed to us in Scripture. We always need to explain to people what the Bible says. They are to trust in what the gospel says, not just in some vague concept of God.
Romans 10:13-17, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
When the Holy Spirit implants this saving faith in someone’s soul, he will believe whatever he knows God has said. Our duty is to point people to that truth. If they truly believe God and take him at his word, they will not only trust in the promises about salvation, they will trust all the moral principles and truths they know are revealed in the Bible.
There’s another practical outworking
of true faith in Hebrews 11:1.
Faith is, “… the evidence of things not seen.”
There are things we are not able to take into the science lab, things we cannot see, touch, or measure. Spiritual realities are just as real as physical ones. They are not seen with our five senses, or measured with scientific instruments. God testifies in his word. That becomes confident certainty to us.
This is not saying that faith is in itself evidence of unseeable things. We live in an age of religious existentialism and nihilism. Those are fancy words for complicated philosophies. They reflect some very popular opinions which are promoted in movies, music, books, and in our public schools. They teach that just deciding that something is true is all the reality we can know. Having faith in your faith is meaningless nonsense. The Bible does not teach that here or anywhere.
The word for “evidence” here is elenchos (ελεγχος). It means evidence in the negative sense of correcting wrong impressions or understandings of something. It is often translated as “reproof” or “conviction of sin or wrongdoing.” When truth is brought to the light, wrong things are exposed for what they are.
This text in Hebrews 11 teaches that what God says becomes our firm conviction when the Holy Spirit gives us a true faith, confidence that what God says is right, and that anything contrary to it is wrong. This living inner testimony from God is better evidence that scientific measurements. It gives us an inner assurance that God’s written promises can be counted upon and live by.
Saving faith is that convincing proof that makes our hearts accept and trust God’s word simply because we know God said it. It exposes errors and myths about things that come from the vain imaginations of lost hearts.
Faith in what God says brings comfort and confidence which are available nowhere else. Upon divine authority believers take action based upon what God tells them is best. They organize their lives around his advice. They begin to realize the rich spiritual blessings that come to us by grace alone.
Jesus said in John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Principally, faith is the accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace (WCF 14:2).
This true faith produces a confidence and certainty that makes us thankfully obey God. We obey with more confidence than what any human reasoning could ever give us.
People are often quick to take human advice and risk all they have by resting upon it. Some make risky investments in the stock market because of a tip or hunch. Some take unproven medicines because of desperation and some partial research findings. People trust their lives to surgeons, pilots, bridge inspectors, restaurant cooks, and to thousands of other drivers when they take their cars out on the interstates. They trust TV infomercials, ads on coupons, the advice of friends who are no wiser than we are, and celebrities who not only act and sing, but tell us who to vote for, what soap to buy, and what foreign policy we should support for America’s future.
Even the best of human advice cannot compare with the confidence we should have in the words of God himself. If he made us and rules the entire universe, it makes no sense for anyone to hesitate to take his advice about the lessons of Scripture that effect our daily lives. He teaches us about responsibly managing our finances, about how his Sabbath Day should be honored, about how we should worship, about sexual morality and the preservation of our families and marriages.
The faith that comes to us by grace in Christ directs us to the one perfectly sure and secure foundation of truth — the word of God. We are fools not to fully entrust all we have and do to that perfect counsel.
Keeping these principles in mind, take a fresh look at Hebrews 11. Notice that each of the heroes of the faith did not simply have a blind or undefined ability to hope all things work out in the end. They did not have a leap-in-the-dark attitude which convinced them that God will do what they wanted him to do. They had a trust, a full confidence, in something specific that God had said. They believed his promises and spoken assurances. Beyond that, they showed the sincerity of their faith by acting upon what God said to them. They each did something in response to the promises of God. Their faith did not stand in a vacuum. It was such a firm trust that they could put their lives on the line knowing that if God said it, it was true and reliable.
This is the fruit our faith should have too. We do things God’s way, trust in his promises, act confidently in all we set out to do, because we are following the instructions and assurances of our Creator, the one who redeemed us undeserving sinners, and adopted us to become his beloved children forever.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)