“Faith is the assurance (or conviction) of things hoped for, the evidence (or verification) of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).
I said last week that this verse has 2 parts. At first glance they look like parallels, each part saying the same thing with different words. But on closer inspection, each line seems to deal with a different aspect of faith, a different quality. “Conviction,” or “assurance” is not the same thing as “evidence,” or “verification.” Conviction is “a firmly held belief or opinion,” whereas “verification” is “The process of establishing the truth, accuracy, or validity of something” (New Oxford American Dictionary). One part seems to deal with the invisible realm, while the other exists more in the realm of what is observable…
Part 1 deals with the invisible quality of faith, or what goes on in the head and the heart. It deals with “hope,” and is a statement about any kind of faith. It’s about the conviction that what one believes is true. For Christians, it’s being convinced regarding what you believe to be true about the God of the Bible. Atheists have a problem with faith because they see it as “blind belief –“ but real faith should be convinced of its belief for real reasons. To that end, we can use our brains, we can use logic, we can use rational analysis and the empirical method to research the history of the Bible, the historical validity of its claims, and perhaps most importantly, the consistency of its message from cover to cover compared to that of all other major faith traditions in the world. That happens to be a second “pet peeve” for atheists – that Christians are so willing to blindly believe one set of “wild” claims while simultaneously denying the validity of other religions with similarly “wild” and miraculous claims. My answer to this? No other religious system, upon examination, remains consistent, logical and concise in message, content, delivery and follow-through. Take Islam; Jesus is honored as one of many great Muslim prophets, while Muhammad is hailed as the greatest, and yet the Qur’an itself notes that Jesus was the only prophet without sin... That to me is a small example of an inconsistent message. Conviction and intelligence are not mutually exclusive qualities. To the extent that you’re able, learn why you believe what you believe. Faith is informed belief.
Part 2 of our verse deals with the verification of “things unseen.” How is that done? We are “verifying” our faith for ourselves in a small way when we do the research about what we believe as mentioned above, but what about proving what we believe to others? Can we absolutely verify the existence of an invisible God beyond a shadow of a doubt? I’ll be the first to admit that even if every speck of evidence regarding the existence of God available through modern science were placed in front of a seeking person, there would still remain a gap in our knowledge that would require a measure of “fact-less hope” for a seeker to step across. That being said, you will never be able to completely “prove” the existence of God for anyone else. The Bible says God has allowed some to be blind to what’s true because of wicked motives and unrepentant hearts. Luke 16:31 goes so far as to say that "'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
So if we can’t prove our invisible God to others, what tools are we left with to establish that He is as the Bible portrays Him? How can we verify the “things unseen” in a way that may yet have an impact on unbelievers? A young Billy Graham, speaking on faith, said, “I’ve never seen the wind, but I’ve seen the effects of the wind.” What verifies the invisible is its measurable affects on the visible – So what effects of faith can we measure or observe? How about how we live and behave in response to what we say we believe…? Behavior reflects belief. Biblically, this principle is repeated again and again; healthy and mature or maturing faith is always a two-sided coin. On the one hand, good works without faith anchored in grace are meaningless, or at best – “ritualism”/ legalism. And yet, on the other side, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). The Christian Rock band DC Talk once put out an album with this quote between two of its songs… “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians – who acknowledge Jesus with their lips – and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Dead faith has a hard time convincing people of a Living God. Perhaps if I begin to consistently respond in obedience to what I believe to be true about God, fewer atheists would demand to see the scientific proof of His existence. So then, these two parts together in our verse define faith as being convinced that what we believe about God is true, and that what we believe will be verified or “evidenced” by the way we live our lives.“So how does grace fit into all of this?” you’re wondering… It does no good to tell people to “behave better” unless they are capable of doing so – and you are! Remember Titus 2: 11,12? “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” The grace of God will teach you how and will give you the power to live out what you believe, but only you can make the time to be taught. Read God’s precious Word. Pray. And just as Jesus is the author of our faith, says the Bible, so He is the one who matures it to the point of completion as well.