408 HEBREWS 11:1-3 AND 11:8-16. WHAT IS FAITH? A Reading for Sunday 07 August 2022


This is a question many of us have asked in the past when we were trying to ascertain whether a particular person [perhaps even ourselves] was acting in faith or in sheer presumption. This chapter helps to clarify the nature of faith. The writer notes the following about faith.

  • “Now faith is the assurance [NOTE 1] of things hoped for.”  Faith is built upon hope. That means in Christian terms, believing in the certainty that God’s promises will come true.  Hope is based on the certainty of God’s character and on the truths of His word. Faith looks in expectancy to the fulfilling of those promises and truths from His word.
  • “the conviction [NOTE 2] of things not seen.“ Jesus spoke to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29. There is a blessing on those who truly believe God in spite of an apparent lack of evidence. Faith allows God to make the invisible become visible in one’s experience.
  • 2, “For by it the people of old received their commendation.” [NOTE 3]. The writer is about to describe the faith of many of the Old Testament saints which made them commendable, acceptable or approved in God’s sight.
  • 3, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Faith believes that the whole universe was made out of nothing that previously existed. God in creation spoke the universe into being. It was creation “ex nihilo” out of nothing.   


The Person Of Faith Responds To God

  • 8 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.“

Even today we know the tensions of having to move from one location to another. Especially when you realise that you may never return to the familiar background in which you were born and lived. An extra dimension in Abraham’s faith was that when he departed he still did not know where his destination would be. 

The Person Of Faith Sacrifices Everything For God

  • 9, “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. “

The Person Of Faith Believes That Impossibilities Can Become Possible By The Power Of God

  • 11, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

Sarah had obviously given up hope of bearing a child to Abraham and when she was told by an angelic messenger that she was to bear a child when she was beyond the age to bear children, she initially laughed at the idea [as did Abraham]. But her faith prevailed, and she gave birth to the promised child, Isaac. 

God had said to Abraham when Sarah laughed at the prospect of bearing a child, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Both Abraham and Sarah discovered that human impossibilities can become possible by the Lord’s power when it is according to the will of God.

THE Person Of Faith Believes That God’s Followers Can Believe In The Present For Things To Be Fulfilled In The Future

  • 13, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
  • The writer sums up these examples of faith by stating that they all kept looking to God for His promises to be fulfilled in His time and not just their own. They had seen themselves as being dependent on God for His guidance and provision and as having no permanent home until the Lord led them to the place of His choosing. Their security lay in God’s ongoing promises to them and not on His past provision to them. They wanted, by faith, what He wanted for them [a better country] even if it had not been fulfilled before they died. As the writer added, “for he has prepared for them a city.” They would not miss out on receiving the promise of God!


It is humbling for believers today to read of the faith of these Old Testaments saints. They didn’t have the written Bible nor the experiences of believers throughout the ages to be encouraged by. They simply trusted in the promises they received by God and stepped out in faith to fulfil His purpose for them. What we have in these verses is the record of how God saw them as faithful and commended them for their faith. 

He was “not ashamed to be called their God.”

As we will see in the next chapter, the writer uses these examples of faith in the Old Testament saints to encourage believers in every generation in their Christian pilgrimage, “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.” Hebrews 12:1.


[NOTE 1.] “Assurance” [hypostasis; ὑπόστασις] is literally “to stand under “and can be translated as “confidence, substance, real being.“  The New English Bible translated the phrase as “Faith gives substance to our hopes.” Faith believes something promised can come true and brings it into being as a reality. It provides the substance to the often unseen reality.

[NOTE 2.]  “Conviction.” [elegchos;  ἔλεγχος] means “proof, conviction, evidence, reproof.” It is used by John to describe the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit as He reveals the sinfulness of sin in the life of an individual. John 16:8, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” In other words, He will make people realise the reality of what sin is, in the sight of God. Believers will have a conviction of the truths given by God to His people.

[NOTE 3.]  “Commendation.”  [martyreō; μαρτυρέω] means to be a witness, testify, give witness, and here in the passive voice, be well reported of, to be of good report. Here the commendation is given by God for their faith in Him, His word and His promises. 

Blog No.408 posted on Thursday 14 July 2022.

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Creation, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Justification, Lectionary Readings Year C 2019, New Covenant, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification, Temptations, TOPICS and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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