Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Based on this translation and looking deeply into it, I’ve written my own definition of faith:
Faith is the imaginative mental, physical, or spiritual representation of a confidently hoped for reality precipitating from a conviction of what is true based on the evidence for that which cannot be grasped with the five senses.
That is very helpful for me, and I hope can even be a little helpful for a few other people.
I really like what John Chrysostom had to say about this verse over 1,600 years ago:
For since the objects of hope seem to be unsubstantial, faith gives them substantiality or rather, does not give it, but is itself their substance. For instance, the resurrection has not come, nor does it exist substantially, but hope makes it substantial in our soul. This is the meaning of “the substance of things.”
(He of course was talking about the eschatological resurrection of the dead, not the resurrection of Jesus which had happened a few centuries before he wrote this.)
So the substance of our hoped for reality is what is manifested and born out of our motivation that results from our mental and spiritual representations of that reality. In other words, our actions come from our vision. We live out our faith, whatever it may be. The “movies” playing in our minds most of our waking hours are what get acted out in our real lives each day.
Your faith, we could say, is your vision, or what you envision most of the time. Whatever you envision most will motivate, inspire, and drive you to do what it takes to make that vision a reality. Or possibly to keep that vision from becoming a reality, if it something you wish faithfully to avoid.
We can see this in the two passages where Jesus tells stories to illustrate the importance of praying persistently, audaciously, and full of faith in Luke 11 and Luke 18. The women in each story are motivated (out of envisioning a coming reality) to pester someone for something until they receive it. In Luke 11, she has no bread for her guests, and it is her picture of the embarrassment or shame of not being able to host properly. So she bugs her neighbor until she gives her some bread. In Luke 18, this woman sees the awful probable existence under an injustice she has suffered unless this judge grants her some justice. So it drives her to bother him to the point of his giving in so she doesn’t give him a black eye!
We see then that faith is not always so much about sitting around and asking for things, believing with all our might they will magically come true, but rather an envisioning of God’s kingdom and what it may look like, to the point that it motivates us to get up and do something about it and bring about (substantiate) that beautiful reality we so very much believe in.
Does that make sense?
It’s not a pressure that we have to usher in the kingdom or else God is hosed. It’s that God does indeed use people to usher in His kingdom, so why not be a part of that pure awesomeness?
Ok, enough of my yakkin’. Allow me to share some words from Greg Boyd on this subject, because they’re really good.
Faith involves embracing a vivid vision of an anticipated future that in turn gives rise to a compelling conviction that moves us toward that future.
We exercise faith when we imaginatively represent, as a substantial reality, something in the future to be God’s will. And just as evidence produces a conviction in a person, our imaginative representation produces in us a confident motivation to do what is necessary to bring this imaginative representation into reality.
These real-seeming imaginative representations with their accompanying motivating convictions are generated in our minds all day long, and while most people are conscious of very few of them, they exert the single greatest influence in the direction our lives take–hence the truth of Jesus’ teaching, “According to your faith it will be to you.”