Faith as Ground or Foundation - Hebrews 1:1

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

From Explorations of Faith, 2009.

The Greek word for “substance” used here is hupostasis (υπόστασις), from which is derived our English word “hypostasis”, which means, in metaphysics, “essential nature or underlying reality.” Literally, it meant “that which is placed under”, that is the ground beneath something on which the thing gains a firm foothold. It is in this sense that the Septuagint (LXX) uses it for “standing” in Psalm 69:2, where the psalmist says, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing,”[1] or place for the foot to rest. The word is used five times in the New Testament; thrice as “assurance” or “confidence”, once as “person” or “essential nature”, and once, i.e. here, as “substance”. Obviously, a word can be used in more than one sense, as for instance the word “ground” in the English language can be used to mean “the surface of the earth”, “a piece of land”, e.g. a playground, “the basis for some action or belief”, e.g. moral grounds or grounds for belief, or “a preliminary coat of paint applied to a surface”, among many other things.

Firstly, faith is “the ground of things hoped for.” It is on the basis of faith alone that God can give to us what He desires to give us. However, faith can only be a basis because of God’s Word (Truth of God). The faith that is not based on God’s Word is not foundational about the things of God. It leads to somewhere else. But the faith that is connected to God’s Word is the ground for experiencing the things of God. There are many instances in the Scriptures that illustrate this truth. The Israelites perished in the wilderness and couldn’t enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief (Jude 5). Moses could not enter the Promised Land because of his unbelief in the word of God (Num. 20:12; disobedience is a form of unbelief). Jesus could not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Mk. 6:5, 6; Mt. 13:58). Scripture tells us that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not be saved (Mk. 16:16). It is on the basis of faith that we receive healing (Mt. 9:22), salvation (Eph. 2:8), the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:14), and eternal inheritance (Ac. 26:18). Obviously, faith is the inevitable condition for the appropriation of divine gifts, not because God is incapable of acting without our faith but because faith is the spiritual relation between a heart that willingly receives and the heart that willingly gives. However, the text also has a second implication: that faith is the ground upon which things are hoped for. We can only hope of better things because we have, first, faith. As has already been seen earlier, if I can’t believe in someone, I can’t hope anything from him. I can’t have hopes of victory, for instance, from an army that I don’t believe to be capable of victory. Without faith there is no hope, without hope there is no vision, without vision there is no strength, and without strength there is no thrust. In other words, faith determines a lifestyle by providing both vision and inspiration, and also a reason to live.
  1. Faith as Ontological Basis of Spiritual Blessings. By ontological basis is meant that it is not just a mental assent but is also a real and solid basis for spiritual blessings. In fact, faith connects knowledge of truth with the reality of the truth itself. In that sense, it is the basis of the things hoped for. Faith is a real act of commitment to the truth, a space-time event that pierces through time to eternity. Therefore, an act of faith has inevitable results. When Moses acted out in faith on God’s word and struck the Red sea, it was inevitable that it split into two parts. When the blind man obeyed Jesus and washed his eyes in the pool of Siloam, it was inevitable that his eyes be opened. This is so because faith is the basis of things hoped for. The faith of God is an act directly related to God and not this space-time world; therefore, it pierces through space-time and catches hold of the hem of God’s garment unleashing His power and blessings in this temporal frame. That is why miracles are possible, despite the general laws of nature. Peter walked on water by the faith of God that sees God as the Lord of creation and not limited by its phenomenal functions, its natural laws, or the way things happen. God is the source of all created reality and all phenomena owe their existence to God. His infinite power spans the difference between being and non-being and brings things out of nothing. Therefore, He is Lord of all creation. For God, nothing is impossible. An act of faith connects to the will and power of God. Therefore, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible to you” (Mt. 17:20); for through faith what is possible to God is also possible to the believer.
  2. Faith as Epistemic Basis of Spiritual Experiences. Faith not only connects to the will and power of God; it also connects to the knowledge of God. It is both mental consent and commitment to the truth proclaimed by God. Therefore, it is the epistemic basis of spiritual knowledge.  The experience of faith is the experience of divine truth. This is very obvious in the Scriptural assertion that the natural or carnal man cannot receive the things of God (1Cor. 2:14). They have no personal significance for him. There were many people who saw and heard Jesus during His physical ministry in this world; however, it was very few who really believed and, consequently, experienced Him. Let’s compare two perspectives here: the first, of the high priest and the second, of Jesus’ disciple, John:
(1) And the high priest answered and said unto him, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus saith unto him, “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, “He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy” (Mt. 27:63-65).
(2) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14).
The contrary experiences of the high priest (feelings of desperation, fury, anguish, discomfort, and rage) were governed by his refusal to believe the confession of Christ. He could never know Christ because he could not believe Him. On the other hand, John saw Jesus as the Son of God who came and dwelled among us. The high priest accused Him of blasphemy; but John saw Him as being full of grace and truth. The high priest could not know God because of his unbelief. Thus, faith is considered to be essential to knowledge. To know means also to believe. This is very true also in relation to statements about this temporal world. For instance, if someone says that he knows that the earth is spherical, it also means that he believes the earth to be spherical. Further, knowledge is composed of truth; therefore, knowing something means also to believe in the truth about that thing. To believe in falsehood does not constitute knowledge. For instance, one may believe that the earth is flat, but since this belief doesn’t correspond to reality therefore, it is obvious that this person doesn’t really know what the earth is like but is, on the other hand, deceived about it. False belief doesn’t constitute knowledge; it constitutes ignorance and deception. True belief alone, therefore, is knowledge. Evidently, then belief is elemental to knowledge. There is a difference between sensory experience and spiritual knowledge because spiritual knowledge is not given to us in the form of sense-perception but must be received on the basis of faith alone. For instance, the knowledge of Christ’s atonement on the cross is not derived from a sense-observation of the crucifixion – there were many who saw the crucifixion but only few who truly understood it. It is based on faith in God’s revelation and a communication of this conviction to the heart of the believer by the Spirit of God. Therefore, the nature of this revelation is spiritual, transcending all limitations of language and thought though not contradicting them. Evidently, then, faith is the basis of spiritual experiences. Therefore, the Scripture says:

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God (1Cor. 2:9- 10).

[1] The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) renders it as ἐνεπάγην εἰς ἰλὺν βυθοῦ, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπόστασις·

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