The writer of Hebrews writes to encourage readers that Jesus is supreme and to challenge readers to walk focused on Him (Hebrews 12:1–2). In chapter 11 the author highlights a number of portraits of faith to illustrate that, while they all gained approval (justification) through their faith, God’s promises to them would include betterment for us as well (Hebrews 12:39–40). The writer begins the “Hall of Faith,” as chapter 11 is sometimes known, by asserting that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV). But what does it mean that faith is the evidence of “things not seen”?
In Romans 8:23 Paul illustrates a principle of hope in that we wait eagerly for the redemption of our body—something we don’t currently see as a reality. He adds that in hope we have been saved and that hope that is seen is not hope—for if it were seen, then there is no more need for hope because what we were hoping for would be reality (Romans 8:24). Because we don’t yet see it, it remains hope, and we wait eagerly with perseverance to see it (Romans 8:25). Similarly, Paul suggests that we can endure momentary light affliction because of the weight of glory it produces in us (2 Corinthians 4:17). Anticipating that future result, we are looking at things that are not currently seen because the things that are not seen are future things—eternal things, in this case (2 Corinthians 4:18). Working from the same essential principle, the writer of Hebrews reminds readers that faith is “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The term translated “evidence” is the Greek word elengchos, which often refers to an argument or a case being made. Faith is an argument for that which is not yet seen. Of course, faith doesn’t prove something that is not yet seen—only the One who made the promise can prove the promise by fulfilling it. Faith, though, is the certainty of something that one does not see and an argument for its validity.
Elsewhere, Paul argues for the superiority of love over faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8), but faith will one day be unnecessary, as it will be turned to sight, and hope will be realized and be unneeded after that. Love, on the other hand, will sustain throughout eternity. The author of Hebrews makes a similar case that faith is vitally important, for through faith comes justification (Hebrews 11:1), but the author is also quick to point out that faith is only as good as the object of that faith. In this case, the author directs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfector of the faith (Hebrews 12:2). In so doing, we can run the race before us without growing weary (Hebrews 12:1). The power of faith, then, is not on its own merits, for faith is temporary. Rather, the power of faith is in the One who began the faith and who will complete the faith. Because He is trustworthy, the faith itself is an assurance, an argument for—and the evidence of—things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Because of the cloud of witnesses that has preceded us and that has modeled putting faith into action, we can be encouraged in our own lives that, just as God will fulfill His promise to them, He will fulfill His promises to us. Until we see that come to pass, our faith in Him is an evidence of things not seen.