“Faith is the substance of what we hope for, the conviction of what we do not see.” This is how I think Hebrews 11:1 should be translated. A lot of modern translations prefer to render the Greek word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) as “assurance,” but I think that is already the force of the second part of the verse, namely, that through faith we are “convinced” that some things we do not see will come to pass.

But the first part of the verse tells a different story. The author of Hebrews had already used “hypostasis” in 1:3 in that sense, when he said that the Son is the “substance” (NIV “exact representation”) of the Father. In other words, what the Father is, in essence, is what the Son is. “Like Father, like Son.”

So the text would then be understood as faith giving substance to our hopes. Faith provides a platform for hope. Through faith, we can “see” things that only exist as promises from God. Faith allows the “not yet” to move into the column of the “here and now.” The task in the “to do list” gets a “done” check.

And this is the main point of the “parade of heroes” in Hebrews 11. They all lived in faith but faith for them was not a leap in the dark. It moved them to act as if what had been promised to them was already realized. Faith gave feet to their confidence and wings to their God given dreams.

And what was the promise? It was none other than the coming of the Redeemer, the Messiah-Savior who would reconcile us to our Maker once and for all. But none of them saw the star in the east announcing the birth of Christ outside of Bethlehem. None of them held the baby Jesus in their arms like old Simeon did. But that didn’t stop them from living as if the Messiah was already there. “They were all commended for their faith,” he says, “yet none of them received what had been promised” (11:39).

As proof of this way of life, the author gives a whole list of hardships God’s people had to endure because they treated the “not yet” as “here and now” (11:35b-40). In fact, like so many of our brothers and sisters today, especially in atheist and religiously totalitarian regimes, many had the option of being released, if they were willing to reject this faith of substance (11:36.) But no, they preferred to die, because they knew and believed beyond any doubt the day of their liberation was a sure date on the calendar. No wonder the author says that “the world was not worthy of them” (11:38a).

Which brings me to the nature of God’s promises. They are not like a blank check, one that you may fill with whatever amount that suits your fancy. God is still in charge of writing and signing the check. They are not like a “rain check.” God never runs out of supply. His stock is always overflowing and He gives us good and perfect gifts. God’s promises are more like a certified check, except He is at once the bank and the signatory. He determines the amount, verifies that the supply is there, and transfers it to a secure account so it will be there when the check is cashed in. And His Son offered Himself as a guarantor. Air tight case.

And that’s the reason those the saints of old could live with the reality of Christ in the here and now even though it was “not yet.” Sadly, however, many Christians today prefer to inhabit a reverse universe: they live with the here and now reality of the resurrected Messiah but act as if it were “not yet” here. May it not be said of us that “the world was just fine with the way they lived.”

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA