Substance and Evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

Faith is a human attribute. Faith is an essential human attribute. God has no need of faith because nothing is unseen for him, but we earth-bound creatures live with many things out of sight. We exercise faith as a part of our human nature. We all exercise faith and we do so all time. Eating in a restaurant requires faith. I trust the people preparing my food have done so with the highest standards of sanitation. I have heard of the “5 second rule,” but I hope it is not true. You know the rule that says if a cook drops your food on the floor they have five seconds to pick it up! Driving down the road requires faith. I trust nobody will intentionally run a red light and crash into me. I understand that accidents happen and so I wear a seat belt, but I trust the other drivers on the road to obey the traffic laws. Every friendship requires faith. I trust my friends will do me no harm. Friendships cannot exist without faith which is why betrayal, gossip, lying, rumors hurt so bad. Trust is assumed and when it is violated, we experience pain.

At first glance it does not look like we could tag substance and evidence to our faith. “Substance” and “evidence” are words from here, from earth. They speak of things that are tangible and certain. “Faith,” particularly Christian faith, is a word from heaven. It speaks of things hoped for in the future, things unseen. Our faith is forward-looking. Our faith has always been looking into the future.

  • Abraham was looking for a city.
  • Moses was looking for a promised land.
  • David was looking for a kingdom.
  • Israel was looking for a Messiah.
  • The Church is looking for a resurrection & new creation when Jesus returns.

Our faith is connected with the future, but words like “substance” and “evidence” are connected to the present so how exactly is faith substance and evidence?

Let’s start by answering this question with some of the ways faith is NOT substance and evidence.

First, faith is not a spiritual substance. Some define faith as spiritual power. They speak of the “force of faith,” something we possess and can use, but as a substance, faith cannot be reduced to a power under our control. Faith as spiritual substance is much closer to what you see in science fiction movies like Star Wars were people have superhuman powers. This view is not how we see faith at work in Scripture or in the history of the church. We see ourselves as powerless, dependent beings. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Faith is not all-powerful, but it is the medium that connects us to the all-powerful One.

Second, faith is not empirical evidence. The word “empirical” means evidence that has come by clear observation and experimentation. Empirical evidence has its place in the medical community, but not so much in the community of faith. There are reasons behind our faith and you can explore those reasons, but if you are looking for air-tight empirical evidence that will answer every question you will be disappointed. Faith doesn’t work that way. You cannot discover God with a microscope or a telescope. Empiricism sets the rules defining what evidence is and God defies their rules! Faith is evidence, but it is not evidence according to empirical standards, because faith is a matter of the heart and not the five physical senses.

So how exactly is faith substance and evidence? Faith is substance and evidence as it is confessed and lived out in the life of the Church.

Faith is communal. It is not my faith, but our faith. This shared nature of faith is why Hebrews 11 goes on to list men and woman of faith who did things by this communal faith. It is not one person doing something great by faith. Hebrews could have just mentioned Abraham, but it provides a list of Israel’s hero who did thing by faith. So Hebrews 11 is not a record of an isolated individual doing something by faith, it is a record of a community of faith doing things by this communal faith.  “Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV). Our faith is not subjective. It is not just something we merely experience in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews says faith is that which is shared by “the people of old,” people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab, and on the list goes. They are the substance and evidence of our faith. When we exercise personal faith (and we should), we are tapping into a shared faith that is so much bigger than ourselves. It is our shared faith, and not our own personal faith, that is substance and evidence.

Personal faith happens when we as individuals confess and live out the faith. Our faith is not internal and private. It is by nature external and public. So we confess both our sins and our faith. Confession in the Christian faith means to “say the same thing.” When we confess our faith we are saying the same thing the Church says about the matters of faith. It is not enough to simple think about the faith. It must be confessed and vocalized. We confess: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God’s son and our Lord. Jesus died. Buried. Descended. Raised. Ascended and coming again. The substance and evidence in our confession is not in the words we speak. The substance and evidence is in act of saying the same thing the church has said for 2,000. Our heritage is the substance and evidence.

It is not enough merely to confess our faith. We must live it out, because faith without corresponding activity is dead (See James 2:17-18). You know the old adage: easier said than done? That applies to our faith. My oldest son Wesley and I just had a conversation about that phrase. We were asking ourselves, “Isn’t everything easier said than done? Why do we say things like that?” Faith is substance and evidence when we can point to people living it. We believe in Jesus because people have been following Jesus for 2,000. When our faith gets week we look to the Church and find substance for our faith to grow from the confession and lifestyle of others living by faith.

After Hebrews 11 lists all the people of faith. It goes on to encourage us with these words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

We run with endurance sustained by, and receiving evidence from, this great cloud of witnesses, the community of faith, who are cheering us on. Not only do we receive substance and evidence by others, but when we are confessing and living out our faith we become the substance and evidence for others. We are the substance of faith. We are the evidence of faith. The degree by which we confess and life out or faith is the degree by which we will be substance and evidence.

Listen to the sermon version of this blog post here.