The Letter (Epistle) to the Hebrews: 11:1-6

A few thoughts on Faith: "The just shall live by faith"

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "AND WAS NOT FOUND, BECAUSE GOD HAD TAKEN HIM"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.


The Hebrew Christians, to whom this letter was written, were clearly on the brink of turning back from their faith in Christ to the old Judaism from whence they came. That is, there were turning to the things they could see, feel, touch, but could not save them – for none of these required faith. Chapter 11 of the Hebrews examines faith, or at least some of the important elements of faith, and explains that faith has to do with what cannot be seen.

Chapter 11 is a warning, as it is a tendency of all to go back, rather than trusting in Our Lord. There is however no need to turn back as there is waiting for all believers something better – very much better.

The verses before us set some very important truths in regard to faith. The passage not only contains important principles of faith but also sets forth many examples of what faith entails and how these are worked through in ordinary lives. One of the strongest truths of faith can be found in verse 6: "without faith, it is impossible to please Him", that is the Lord God Most High.

The author assumes that one knows that the essence of righteousness is faith, indeed the essence of Christianity is faith – that is, there is no work that humans can do to make themselves right with God, or even move in the direction of making oneself better or closer to God, for sin has separated man from God:

And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:42-43 NKJV)


And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:31).

Further, we have Jesus’ word in John 7:38:

He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.

Which of course follows John 3:16?

Note also: For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring (Isaiah 44:3.)

Verse 1 and its connection with the previous chapter

The author of Hebrews 11 sets out to illustrate the truths declared in the previous chapter (10:38 & 39), which is shown by the first word "now". The truth of 10:38 is that "the just shall live by faith" and furthermore, ‘belief’ is "to the saving of the soul".

Verse 1 does not give a definition of faith per se but rather sets forth the important principles, which he then illustrates in the rest of the chapter. In fact it is a terse description of the operation of faith along with its outcome, rather than being a definition.[1]

Now faith is the substance [assurance, confidence] of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction] of things not seen. (KJV)


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

Note here that the "substance" of the "assurance", which the NIV renders "being sure", has been translated in various ways: the Greek being hypostasis (ὑπόστασις). In chapter 1 verse 3 this word was translated nature or essence (the brightness of His glory and the express [NIV uses exact] image of His person) and chapter 3 verse 14 as conviction or confidence. It is the same word Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 9:4 talking of his confidence in the Macedonians.

Faith requires a sincere heart: Chapter 10:22 "sincere heart in full assurance of faith". Without sincerity, that is having no hidden doubts, faith cannot flourish. Here the emphasis is on truth (or true to fact) because "sincere" (ἀληθινός) connects (observed or seen) reality with the truth. Sincerity is really about not having hidden defects – to be sincere is to be truthful, not hiding anything.

Faith needs to be more than a mere acknowledgement of a fact, but needs to be a persuasion of the mind of that which is hoped for. This ensures the believer that there are such things as salvation - but also assures, through the power of the Holy Spirit that he shall possess such things. Hence, faith must contain these two principles - being convicted of what is hoped for, and have evidence of those things.

Easton suggests that this is about being persuaded of the mind that a certain statement is true.[2]

. Hence, faith relies on trust, and trust on truth. Put another way:

So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17

Hence, faith comes from hearing the message - the Gospel, and the message is the word of God. Note the tense in the following:

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. John 5:24 

The primary idea of faith is trust

Without trust one cannot believe what one hears. This is an obvious corollary. Of utmost importance is the fact that truth can only be revealed by divine testimony. Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life". This is certainly true if one examines verse 3 - faith in the true testimony of God reveals how the world was made. Words of men are utter folly and remind us of the second Psalm: "Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing?"

Truth is always seen in light of what sin is. Observe the following: Isaiah sees the Lord, as judge, seated on His throne, and immediately he understands deeply the meaning of sin (the sinfulness of sin). His eyes compare the holiness of the Lord with his filthy wretched state and immediately his heart cries out:

So I said: "Woe [is] me, for I am undone! Because I [am] a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)

It is faith that sees sin and a distant view of Christ and causes us to flee our guilty conscious to Christ the Saviour. We do this because we can trust Him.

Faith requires the mind to be enlightened, remembering that before salvation we are in complete darkness. Note carefully John 6:44

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.

Saving faith is God given. (See also Ephesians chapter 1.)

What is Faith

Faith in Jesus Christ is essentially a saving grace - grace being undeserved favour - i.e. believing in the salvation of the soul (Hebrews 10:39). By it we receive Jesus Christ (John 1:12), and can rest upon him for salvation (man cannot achieve this), Philippians 3:9.

Faith is having a confident persuasion, expectation, and assurance - faith is being fully convicted or persuaded that Christ saves; and indeed has redeemed us from our sinful state, not by making the old new, but giving as a new life (i.e. being born again).

Romans 1:17 (JND) for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, But the just shall live by faith.

Faith is not blind – it must be based on evidence. One steps onto a bridge having faith it will hold – the evidence may be that others have used it, or the structure looks sound etc. The Holy Spirit provides the undeniable evidence that Christ saves. Faith therefore is a result of hearing, or teaching:

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? (Romans 10:14 KJV)

Why Faith

The Bible amply demonstrates the moral weakness of man. He is incapable of being holy, and furthermore, he cannot cleanse the consciousness of the guilt of sin. This fact Hebrews chapter 9 has already pointed out.  However, Ephesians makes another point: if man could save himself, we would do so only to boast: because pride can only ensure a downward path.

Salvation is a gift of God, which we appropriate through faith. Before God we are dead in our trespasses. That is, our sin makes us so abhorrent to Him, He must turn His face from us (I shall hide My face from them)[3]. In fact we all deserve death - as in the time of Noah, because all have fallen short, and deserve to die. It is however by grace we are save - an undeserved favour - due to the love of God towards us - see Ephesians 2:4-10.

Lack of faith does two things, which in essence are the same. Hebrews 11:6 emphatically states that God cannot be pleased without it. And whether we like it or not, man is to please God; it is his duty. (This is what Esther was required to do in order to save the people, she had to please and be pleasing to King Ahasuerus; this contrasted with Queen Vashti's action who does not please the king and thus she is put out of the palace).

[W]alk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing [Him], being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; Colossians 1:10

Jesus is far more brutal in describing the outcome of the lack of faith:

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [condemned]. Mark 16:16

That is there is no life for the un-faithful - only outer darkness and the gnashing of teeth will prevail. The truth is evident. Rejecting God rejects the only way open for salvation. Believing not on Christ leads to death. It is interesting to see that the first use of the word "faith" in scripture is in Deuteronomy when God was moved in anger against the Israelites because they did not please God. Indeed they had forsaken Him and gone after idols - God hides is face from those without faith (Deuteronomy 32:20).

There is no other way of righteousness, no other way of living, but by faith. It is by faith we are justified, and by faith we live. By faith we stand, and by faith we walk (Mackintosh). But the just shall live by his faith. Habakkuk 2:4

The Beauty of Faith - verse 2

The Holy Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us (Ephesians 2:8 - saved by grace through faith) and by it uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling (Ephesians 3:17 - that Christ by dwell in your hearts through faith) (see Spurgeon)

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; Ephesians 3:17

Not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; Philippians 3:9.

Humans have strived long and hard to understand the world we live in, to please God or completely ignore Him, in order to make an impression. Indeed people in general spend most of their life ensuring a good impression is made. One only needs to read any politician's speech, listen to the radio or watch television to see that ‘self-image’ or ‘self-worth’ is viewed as the most worthwhile thing to strive for. Scripture has a different view. The testimony or commendation of those of old did not come from grooming their ego, but from their faith (verse 2). The rest of the chapter sets out evidence for this statement.

Verse 3

The things of God to the unbeliever appear unreal, unnatural or unlikely; in fact often regarded as impossible, but with faith, the veil of uncertainly is lifted. Faith visualizes the unseen world, and substantiates the things hoped for, and brings reality to things invisible (Arthur Pink). The eyes are shut to things seen, and ears are opened to the things heard. It is interesting to see the Holy Spirit of Revelation seven times asks for the ears to be opened. That is, to know that God created the world in six days requires faith in God – science cannot provide the satisfaction of being assured of this.

Verse 4

Following creation we have faith in respect to sacrifice. It is evident that faith was made known when sin came into the world. Faith is needed because of sin, which is required to have communion with God, thus bringing to us righteousness, life, shelter in the judgment of the world:

[B]e found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith Philippians 3:9.

Verse 5

Following sacrifice we get righteousness, which we see in Enoch. A reconciled man can walk with God. Enoch is said to have walked with God (See Genesis) and in doing so he pleased Him. His translation is evidence of this.

Verse 6

If I care only for what natural conscience says, I do not get God's mind at all. That does not touch what God is at all, but what man is; it is saying that man may exalt himself - has responsibility to himself; but believing God is a great deal more, for it acknowledges responsibility to God.

"He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder"

What do I mind about difficulties, if I know I am pleasing God? Such a one does not despise any; because, thinking about God, he goes from strength to strength. Intercourse with God shews him more of God's mind - he sees what God is doing. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." If he fail, there will be distress, thus walking with Him, because he has lost the thing he delights in. If accustomed to walk carelessly, he does not notice it. "Without faith it is impossible to please God." If there is diligence in seeking Him, there is the reward.” (JN Darby)


But it may be that some of our readers are disposed to put such a question as the following, "How can I be sure that I am on God's ground? - that I am washed in the blood of Jesus and sealed with the Holy Spirit?" We reply, How do you know that you are a lost sinner? Is it because you feel it? Is mere feeling the ground of your faith? If so, it is not a divine faith at all. True faith rests only on the testimony of Holy Scripture. (CHM Machintosh: The Living God and a Living Faith).

[1] Vine's definition of faith: Primary, firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing. Its elements in terms of spiritual things: (1) a firm conviction produces a full acknowledgement of God's truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12) , (2) A personal surrender to Him (john 1:12), (3) a conduct inspired by such a surrender – i.e. we walk by faith and not by sight.

[2] Easton's Bible Dictionary

[3] And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. Deuteronomy 32:20 KJV

David L Simon (CCC), October 2006
Edited 2 September 2014
C:\Family\Bible\Hebrews\Hebrews - chapter 11 v1 to 6

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