Substance and Evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. —Hebrews 11:1

Faith is that principle, that exercise of mind and soul, which has for its object things not seen but hoped for, and instead of sinking under them as too ponderous, whether from their difficulty or
from their uncertainty, stands firm under them—supports and sustains their pressure—in other words, is assured of, confides in and relies on them. [1]Vaughn, quoted in Broken Bread (Gospel Publishing House), p. 136.

A solid understanding of the biblical ingredients mentioned above in Hebrews will help us steer clear of the popular mystical nonsense taught today under the guise of faith.

SUBSTANCE—This declares that something is there, even though its form may be difficult to recognize. In the Greek language, the word for substance is hupostasis. This word actually consists of two words:

It is that which stands under.

Substance is not the object hoped for; it is rather that which, as Dr. John W. Follette said, “stands under and supports that object in bringing it into material manifestation.” [2]John W. Follette, Broken Bread (Gospel Publishing House), p. 136.

…for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? —Romans 8:24

You cannot have both faith and materialism. God does not want us to say we have the material object when we don’t. This applies to the gifts of the Spirit as well as salvation, and particularly needs to be mentioned today concerning the area of physical healing. God wants us to declare our faith and say we have hupostasis or assurance that the material object hoped for will become a reality. Faith is not a struggle. We do not need to go through mental and emotional gymnastics in order to secure it. Faith is a rest …a calm assurance and a support—it stands under!

(Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. —Romans 4:20

When we waver concerning the promise of God, it is because of fear and unbelief, when we have no solid foundation. As for real stability, we have only to consider God’s character.

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. —James 1:17 (NASB)

“Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. [3]C S Lewis Mere Christianity (Macmillan), p. 123. This statement from C.S. Lewis reminds us that Abraham and a host of others like him were able to stand like the rock of Gibraltar because of the hupostasis which supported them.

True faith is never found alone; it is always accompanied by expectation. The man who believes the promises of God expects to see them fulfilled. Where there is no expectation there. is no faith. [4]A. W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Christian Publications), p. 135.

EVIDENCE—Is there sufficient evidence, open to verifiable observation which can offer strong arguments for believing that God is there and is who He says He is?

…there must be no divorce between premises and evidences. Premises without evidences are unsupported; evidences without premises are insufficient. [5]Os Guiness, The Dust of Death (Inter-Varsity), pp. 336, 337.

Many feel that because faith has to do with unseen and immaterial things, there is either no such thing as evidence or, if there is, it is irrelevant to true faith. But faith is not believing without evidence. A man is under no obligation to believe. In fact, he cannot believe a thing without surveying evidence. There are those who will dispute such a statement, contending that it is possible to believe without necessarily seeing any evidence. [6]Augustine, in his work “On the Gospel of St. John,” stated, “seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” Although this statement has a catchy rhyme, it rests upon a faulty concept. That concept is that evidence is not an integral part of faith. One needs to carefully consider this argument.

To begin what exactly do some believe without any evidence whatsoever to support that belief? No evidence is not limited evidence. Limited evidence is often spoken of as if it were the believer’s final bastion. Declarations such as, “We can only trust His character,” or, “I believe it because God’s Word says so,” are good examples of this. Certainly God’s character and His word are evidences where we can solidly plant our faith. We know God’s character, not because some Christian book describes it, but because He has chosen to reveal it. If God had never revealed His character to us, it would not be an evidence. The fact He has demonstrated it in nature and in lives throughout history is a cause for rejoicing. Furthermore, who really believes the Bible “just because it says so?” This is philosophical circularity. There are many other religious books today also claiming to be repositories of truth. There are, however, several prominent distinctives which the Bible alone possesses and which set it apart from all other literature, religious or otherwise and this is why we revere it. We believe the Bible is God’s Word because we have evidence that it is.

Were there no existent evidence disclosing God’s character and expectations, one could not possibly know Him, let alone believe Him. It this case, belief would be stupidity, not faith, for faith requires some evidence. The leap of faith popularized by the existentialists, notably Soren Kierkegaard, is the desperate attempt to find meaning… or in the religious sense, God, by a chance plunge into the unknown. What then is the difference between Christian faith and existentialism? Evidence. The existentialist hopes to find reality in a mindless “leap of faith,” while the Christian knows what awaits him before he steps onto the road where he “walks by faith and not by sight.” Dr. Francis Schaeffer illustrates this concept very well:

The scene is a guided, alpine expedition caught high on the bare rock by a sudden, dense fog. The guide turns to the party and tells them ice is forming and before morning they will all freeze to death on the mountain. About an hour or so later, as the situation progressively worsens, a member of the party says to the guide: “Suppose I were to drop and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide replies that he might survive until morning and thus live. The individual then, without any warning, hangs and drops into the fog. This is the existential leap of faith.

Supposing, on the other hand, we hear a voice calling out to us as we cling to our precarious positions. The voice says, “You can’t see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I’ve lived in these mountains for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you there is a ledge ten feet below you and if you’ll drop to it, you can make it through the night and I’ll get you in the morning. [7]Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 95, 96.

After asking a series of pertinent questions and receiving convincing answers, you would no doubt drop. Here is faith in the true sense—faith with evidence.

Substance and evidence are further revealed in the account of Peter’s abortive attempt to walk on the Sea of Galilee.

And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat, and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already many stadia away from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking upon the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” —Matthew 14:22-31 (NASB)

Where did Peter find the faith to venture into a situation so totally beyond his own abilities? If the object of Peter’s faith was not beyond himself then faith would have been totally unnecessary here.

The miracle begins as Peter receives evidence—Jesus bids him come. The powerful assurance and conviction within his heart subsequent to the divine “come” was the substance (hupostasis) that brought forth the miracle. Jesus’ rebuke, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?,” doesn’t refer to Peter’s honest skepticism prior to any evidence, but to his failure to persevere after he had received a word from the Lord. Many Christians venture out on a promise when it has no application to the situation at all. Great confusion and damage may occur—because of our presumption. We would be well warned to never venture out upon the water without a divine “come” under our feet!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Vaughn, quoted in Broken Bread (Gospel Publishing House), p. 136.
2. John W. Follette, Broken Bread (Gospel Publishing House), p. 136.
3. C S Lewis Mere Christianity (Macmillan), p. 123.
4. A. W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Christian Publications), p. 135.
5. Os Guiness, The Dust of Death (Inter-Varsity), pp. 336, 337.
6. Augustine, in his work "On the Gospel of St. John," stated, "seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand." Although this statement has a catchy rhyme, it rests upon a faulty concept. That concept is that evidence is not an integral part of faith.
7. Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 95, 96.