There are three words in Hebrews 11:1, which summarize what biblical faith, is substance, evidence, and witness. The word “substance” means literally “to stand under, to support.” Faith is to a Christian like the foundation of a house. It gives confidence and assurance that he will stand. Faith is the confidence of things hoped for. Where there is faith, there is confidence. Since our faith finds its object in God, we have a foundation, which is unmovable, unchangeable, lasts forever. Whatever is promised will be experienced.
The word “evidence” means conviction. It is the inward conviction from the Lord that what He has promised, He will perform it. The presence of God-given faith in one’s heart is conviction enough that God will keep His Word.
The word “witness” (KJV “obtained a good report”) is also an important word. It occurs once in verse 2, twice in verse 4, once in verse 5, and once in verse 39. Hebrews 12:1 follows this thought by listing the individuals who had active faith. The witness in these individuals’ lives shows God’s divine approval upon their lives and ministries.
Faith is a practical thing. Hebrews 11:3. This is true despite what unbelievers say. Faith helps to understand what God does. We receive revelation knowledge through faith in God. This kind of faith enables to do what others cannot do! We see what others cannot see. Note bid enabled them to do what they were called to do. They succeeded because of their active faith. Note what Dr. J. Oswald Sanders says on this subject: “Faith enables the believing soul to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen.” [Ibid.]
The best way to grow in faith is to walk with the faithful. The remainder of this chapter deals with the lives and labors of great men and women who walked in faith. These men and women are found in the Old Testament. Here are the elements revealed in the life of these individuals:
(1) God spoke to them through His Word;
(2) Their inner selves were stirred in different ways;
(3) They obeyed God;
(4) He bore witness about them.
Notice the word “obeyed.” Once they heard, they walked in obedience to what they had heard. They did not flinch at what they had received from God.