This topic recently came up when someone was talking about a Word of Faith ministry. They explained faith as a force. It’s the source of power that God uses to accomplish His word. They defined it as ‘faith filled words’. It was then explained that our word of faith has the power to accomplish anything. Words are containers and if we fill our words with faith, then we will have power. There are varying degrees of how this belief system plays out, but in a nutshell, it is taught that faith is a substance and we harness that substance for our use.
This is not a belief system based on the truth of scripture. I know there are those who will disagree, but rather than picking apart the beliefs of others, let’s look at how God has explain this in the Bible and let everything either stand in agreement or stand against the word of the Lord. Then let us decide which word is truly of faith.
Let’s begin with Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The Greek word translated into ‘substance’ is ‘hupostasis’, which means: strong confidence, substructure, firmness, assurance, or substance. Even if someone knows nothing about Greek, looking at the possible definitions gives a clear meaning. The words that are possible translations are not multiple meanings, but multiple word usages. Substance can be used as long as the usage conveys the idea of something that underpins or is a firm assurance. It’s substance in the sense that faith is substantive in its ability to uphold our confidence. This word is used several times in the Bible, and each time it is used to explain confidence. Here are some examples:
2 Corinthians 9:4 You should not be ashamed of this confident…
2 Cornithians 11:17 I speak foolishly…in this confident boasting…
Hebrews 3:14 …hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.
Here is a place where the word ‘substance’ is used in reference to actual substance. Luke 8:3
…and many others who provided for Him from their substance.
This is not the same Greek word as what is used in Hebrews 11. This is the word ‘huparchonta’, which means possessions, goods, or property. The misconception of faith being a substance is based on the misunderstanding of the English translation of a single word in a single verse. Out of context, this can be twisted into a wrong meaning, but it can’t be misunderstood if read in the context of the rest of the chapter. Read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11. Based on the ‘substance / assurance’ of faith, Abel pleased God and was murdered for his testimony by Cain. By faith Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelled in tents because they refused to settle into a city, but waited for the eternal promised city, whose maker is God.
We look at possessions, but these who walked by faith counted these as nothing. Look at a few more details in this chapter: Hebrews 11:13
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
36-40 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–
38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,
40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
The Bible gives examples of those who saw the miraculous deliverance of God, and those who miraculously endured suffering. Both endured because of faith.
Now if faith is a force that gives us the power to speak our purposes into our world, why is it also used as the example of endurance of those who were mocked, beaten (scourged), sawn in two, slain by the sword, wandered in exile with nothing but animal skins for their possessions, and those who were afflicted and tormented?
The message of faith is not that we have the power to use a force for our will, but that we are so confident in God’s promises that we endure – whether we see part of that promise here, or we become the testimony of one of those who endured. I say part of the promise because even those who saw God’s blessings here didn’t count it as the fulfillment of the promise. In fact, they were willing to give up everything of this life because they had absolute assurance in the eternal promise to come.
How can a person sawn in two be an example of great faith, if faith is the power to proclaim your will and make your word fulfill what you desire to accomplish? If that’s the case, the people who were sawn in two were fools. The homeless saints of the past who had to make their own clothes as they wandered in the wilderness were also very foolish. Why would you use the substance of power to make yourself worse off? No, this passage can only make sense in light of its intended meaning. These were so sure of God’s promise that they were willing to wait with patience – even if every force of evil stood against them. They had the assurance of Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”
Job spoke these words during the darkest time of his life. Though circumstances looked hopeless, he stood on the hope of God’s promise.
Now that we’ve looked at what the substance of faith actually means, let’s look at a great example of faith in action. Abraham is called the father of faith. He was before the Law, and is the Old Testament example of New Testament faith. How does the Bible define faith in Abraham’s life? Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Faith = belief in God’s word. Belief is not merely a passive belief that has no meaning. In James chapter 2, twice the Bible reiterates that faith without works is dead. This passage goes on to call out those who say, “I believe in God.” Big deal. Even demons believe in God, but what effect does that have on their lives? We can also look around. Nearly 80 percent of people say they believe in God, yet He is far from the thoughts of most people, and farther from their actions.
James goes back to Abraham as the example of what true faith looks like. Many places in scripture we see that Abraham was accounted as righteous because he believed God, but James says to look at Abraham’s life to see the evidence of faith.
Abraham was in his late 90s when God promised him a son. God didn’t fulfill that promise until Abraham was 100. God gave Abraham the promise, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” Abraham took this promise to heart. This promise meant that Isaac had to grow into adulthood and have children who would then carry this promise to the next generation. At the heart of the promise was Christ. Through Abraham and his descendants, God would provide the promise of salvation in Christ.
Shortly after giving Abraham the promise, God put Abraham’s faith to the test. He called Abraham to slay his son as an offering for sin. We have the perspective of history and know that the only human sacrifice God ever received was when He became a man and offered Himself up for the sin of the whole world. And He did it on the same mountain that God called Abraham to use to offer Isaac. It was a foreshadow of what God would one day do. Abraham did not have the perspective we have. He only had the promise and the command to offer Isaac.
Since the promise of God was, “In Isaac shall your seed be called,” Abraham knew that there could never be a different son of promise. God would either intervene to provide a substitute for Isaac, or God would have to raise Isaac from the dead. Humanly speaking, it’s impossible for a dead son to be the fulfillment of God’s promise; therefore, Abraham believed the Lord fully capable of doing the impossible. Keep in mind that Isaac’s birth was the miracle of the impossible. The heart of Abraham’s faith is found in this statement from Genesis 22:5
And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”
We will come back to you. Abraham’s faith in God’s promise gave him the firm assurance that regardless of what happened on the mountain, both he and Isaac would return. Now let’s go full circle and return to Hebrews 11. Look at Hebrews 11:17-19
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,”
19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
Faith was the substance that gave Abraham absolute confidence. Abraham had no power to change his circumstance. He didn’t rebuke the devil. He didn’t question God. He didn’t speak his way out of the trial he had to endure. What faith did do was give him absolute confidence that what God promised, he was able to perform. Abraham walked by faith, and though life demanded what Abraham was unwilling to lose, he trusted that God’s promise could not fail. He walked into the storm of emotions he had to be feeling. He laid his hopes and dreams on the altar. He laid down his own will. Then Abraham rested his confidence in God, who was able to give life to the dead and call things that are not as though they were. Let’s look at the passage I just recited from as well. It’s a long passage, but I encourage you to read all of Romans 4:16-25
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all
17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations “) in the presence of Him whom he believed– God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;
18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,
21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.
22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him,
24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Faith gives glory to God as this passage states. The belief that we can harness power to speak our will into existence as God has done takes that glory and attempts to make it about ourselves. It is the call to seek independence from God, just as Adam and Eve attempted to do at the original sin.
Who gives life? Who speaks into existence that which does not yet exist? Not Abraham. Not the power of faith. It is the power of God. Abraham believed on God, who is able to do these things. Not only that, when there was no hope, Abraham held to hope because he was fully persuaded that God was able to perform His word.
And this is the meaning of faith. Faith is believing God. Those who believe God are compelled to obedience, for that is where God’s word is put to the test and His promises are birthed into our lives. Faith without works is dead because any who say they believe God, but are unwilling to trust Him, have nothing but a man-made faith. And anything of the flesh is already dead. Mustered up faith is dead. You can’t produce faith by human effort. Faith comes by hearing the word of God because when we see the promise, that’s when the Spirit reveals these truths to our spirit. Then we have the opportunity to rest fully in confidence in God’s word and promises, or to put our confidence in the flesh and seek safety in either disobedience or apathy.
Faith itself is not a substance. Faith is not power. Faith is the revelation of God’s word and purposes to us, and then we are called to trust in what God has revealed. He reveals the promise, but not how that promise will be fulfilled.
Back in Hebrews 11, we see examples of those who saw God’s power in this life, and those who saw the reality of it beyond this life. Some saw God work in amazing ways. Some were confident without having to see God’s works in this life. But both examples are people who believed God regardless of what the flesh could see.
When you read about faith, keep these things in mind. Faith is not what you do, say, or have the power to accomplish. Faith is trusting in God’s word, His power, and walking where He leads. Faith is believing in God – true belief. The kind of belief that causes us to trust in Him whether going through the valley of the shadow of death, or on the mountain top of restoration. Faith is to trust fully in God and His power to keep His word.