Full Faith! (1)
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
In his classic, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer identified a problem affecting post-World War II Christians, one that continues into our own generation. Tozer lamented the fact that, for too many believers, the life of faith was little more than an intellectual and subjective experience. The reality of Christ and His saving work was something to confess and, perhaps, to experience; however, it seemed to have little impact on the way Christians of his day actually lived.
For most of the Christians Tozer knew, the only real world was the world of sight and sound and touch. The world where Christ rules at the right hand of God was not real in the same way that the material world is real. He wrote, “Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits. We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word.” He continued, “If we would rise into that region of light and power plainly beckoning us through the Scriptures of truth, we must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen.”
Tozer’s understanding of the life of faith comports nicely with that of the writer of Hebrews. Perhaps a better way to translate our text would be like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Evidence is something we can see, something that can be presented and judged. True faith, therefore, consists both of an inward assurance of the truths we believe, and the outward practice of those convictions, so that the evidence of what we confess is on display in every aspect of our lives. Having provided this definition, the writer of Hebrews next presents a kind of “Hall of Fame” of the faithful (Hebrews 11), showing by the example of well-known saints of old how what we believe is only brought to fullness by the way we live.
There are, in other words, two facets of faith: the content of our faith – what we understand, believe, and confess – and the practice of our faith – the evidence of our beliefs as this emerges in every area of life. The writer’s definition of faith is consistent with what we read everywhere else in the Bible. True faith, full faith, faith that leads to salvation and eternal life, is not just a matter of intellectual consent and affective experience. Merely saying that we believe, or even feeling strongly that we are in the favor of God can offer no assurance that we are true followers of Christ. We must have full faith or we have no faith at all.
Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Anyone can say he believes in Jesus, is sure that his sins are forgiven, and that he is going to heaven when he dies. But true faith is not simply this assurance of the things we hope for. True faith comes to fruition in evidence, the evidence of a life wholly given over to the unseen Lord, a life dedicated to Him and devoted to the pursuit of His agenda, by His means, and for the sake of His outcomes and glory. The Apostle James says that if we profess to believe in God, that’s fine as a starting-point. But there needs to be evidence of the reality of that faith. Otherwise, faith in the Lord, having no evidence to demonstrate it, is simply dead and non-existent (Jms. 2:14-26).
The challenge to us as followers of Jesus Christ is to make sure that what we are practicing is full faith. Certainly we need a clear understanding of the Christian hope – the hope of glory and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. That hope must be embraced, nurtured, enlarged, and expanded day by day, using all the means the Lord has provided for us. But that assurance of things hoped for, if it is real, will ultimately bring forth evidence that we are devoted to the unseen things of God and Christ and determined to bring the reality of the unseen realm to light in very concrete ways through our own words and deeds.
Ask some of your Christian friends to explain the difference between assurance of faith and evidence of faith. How do they see these as going together?
This week’s series, Full Faith!, is available in a free downloadable format, suitable for group study.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Good Life, by Charles Colson. Or read the article, “The Essence of True Faith,” by T. M. Moore.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.