Every day we hear phrases like “have faith” or “leap of faith.” George Michael sang a song called “You Got to Have Faith” about believing that someone is interested in a romantic relationship. Faith is obviously a topic that the Bible addresses often. In the book of Hebrews we read what likely is the most well-known definition in terms of religious belief:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
I often hear people talk about faith as being something that we hold without evidence, and sometimes even with evidence to the contrary. Do we read the words “hoped for” and “not seen,” and forget that faith also involves “assurance”? Obviously faith is something about what is “not yet,” but where does this assurance come from? It sounds as if the author of Hebrews is arguing that there is a level of certainty to our faith.
The book of Hebrews talks much about faith. Not only does it teach that faith is important for a Christian, but it upholds faith as the means of salvation and a gift granted by God. Throughout the entire book, faith is separated from things we may do to try to earn God’s favor, but it is tied securely to the fact that we can have assurance and security that we are saved in Christ Jesus. Where, then, do we find this assurance? Look at verse 14 of chapter 4:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
(Hebrews 4:14 ESV)
Though we do not know the identity of the author of Hebrews, it is fairly certain that the author could have been a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is in this light, the factual and historical evidence of Christ’s life, that the author says we find our assurance. We know that Jesus lived, died, and rose again because we have the account of people who saw it happen, spoke to him, and heard his teaching. Not only were these eye-witnesses, but they also understood that the predictions made in the Old Testament about the coming of Messiah, the Savior, were met in Jesus. His life and mission testified to who he was: the Almighty God made flesh.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We have confidence and assurance of our relationship with God because of the historical events and because of who Jesus was: both God and man. Not only did Christ die to cleanse us of sin, but when we are tempted he is able to understand, to show compassion for our plight, and share his abounding mercy on us.
Faith and Assurance
There is much discussion in our society among Christians about what we can know about spiritual matters and the teaching of the Bible. Those on the left (often calling themselves “emerging Christians” or “postmodern”) contend that we do not really know what the Bible teaches us that the gospel is, and that there is no truth that any of us can know for sure. I have to say that they are exactly right, in one sense. We cannot know fully and completely everything there is to know about Truth. After all, we are not God and we are not omniscient as he is. However, Hebrews teaches very directly that we can have assurance, certainty, and security in who we stake our faith in.
“I don’t want evidence that Jesus really existed, because then it wouldn’t be faith.” That really puzzled me when I first heard that. What does that say about the disciples when, face-to-face with Jesus, they were admonished for their lack of faith? It means that somehow faith and certainty can live happily together. From this passage we can know for sure that Jesus was who he said he was, that he demonstrated this by signs and wonders, and “passed through the heavens” to become like us.
Have you ever been curious that at the Ascension, some who watched Christ’s liftoff “still doubted”? Even in the face of hardcore evidence, the people still were uncertain about what the information coming in through their eyes and ears and then processed in their brain. Faith is about what is “hoped for” and “unseen.” Even in light of the evidence, we still are required to believe the meaning of the evidence. Faith is not about “did the resurrection happen?,” but “do I believe what the Bible teaches about the meaning of the resurrection?” Faith means that we believe God’s word on the matter, that the spiritual reality that Christ’s sacrifice made manifest is true, effective, and vital to my life now and in eternity.
Rather than spend a lot of time on the next section (which is revisited in more detail in coming chapters), here is the text to reflect on with some short comments:
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
This is one of those passages that helps me to remember why reading the Old Testament is so important. Spend some time reading through the role of the high priest in Numbers 35 and about this mysterious figure called Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. It is so beautiful how Christ, with no sin, can offer confidence to us as our high priest who can enter the presence of the Father on our behalf with indelible confidence.