The word “faith” can have a lot of meanings. So before we jump directly into James’ discussion of the topic let’s examine what is considered the definitive chapter on the topic in Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:1-3 defines faith as, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
If we only looked at these 3 verses the key words that might jump out to us are “hoped for”, “things not seen”, “what is seen was not made out of things which are visible”. In other words, “faith” might seem like something intangible, impossible to measure, only existing on some invisible level.
But note Hebrews 11:2: “For by it the men of old gained approval.” The writer of Hebrews continues with many examples of famous people and the examples of how their faith, in action, gained God’s approval:
- 11:4 – “….Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain….”
- 11:5 – “ ….Enoch….was pleasing to God.”
- 11:7 – “….Noah….in reverence prepared an ark….”
- 11:8-10 – “….Abraham….went out, not knowing where he was going.”
- 11:17 – “….Abraham….offered up Isaac….”
- 11:22 – “….Joseph….gave orders concerning his bones.”
- 11:23-28 – “….Moses….refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter….left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king….kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood….”
Every one of these examples is faith that put SOMETHING tangible into action in their life by taking a step, performing some action, or doing something beforehand that visibly revealed their faith in God to fulfill His promise. In Hebrews 11:6 it’s summarized, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”