This post is the third in a series of five posts explaining the nature of saving faith. In part two, I discussed how faith is "the assurance of things hoped for..." as explained by the author of Hebrews in the first half of Hebrews 11:1. This post will deal with faith as the "conviction of things not seen" which is the last phrase of Hebrews 11:1.
The five posts are listed here:
1. The certainty of invisible, spiritual realities: past, present and future
2. The assurance of things hoped for, both in this world and the next
3. The conviction of personal sin
4. Active reliance on Christ as all-sufficient Savior, provider, and protector
5. Reception of spiritual guidance
Faith has both a positive and negative aspect. We just finished in the previous post describing the positive aspect of faith, “assurance of things hoped for.” But Hebrews 11:1 also gives the negative aspect as well, “conviction of things not seen.” As we have seen, those things we hope for are attractive to us, appealing, magnetic to our hearts. But faith also warns us of the dire effects of sin. Faith makes the wrath of God real and powerful in our hearts before the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment is revealed (Rom. 2:5). To unbelievers, that day remains hidden, unseen and therefore rejected. But to believers, the day that we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ giving an account for every careless word we have spoken (Matt. 12:36) is powerfully real. These fearful and negative things become more vivid in the heart of a believer by a growing faith. Faith is thus a “two-sided coin.”
John Newton understood the negative aspect of saving faith when he wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace: “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Grace moves in the hearts of the elect when they hear the gospel fully proclaimed, including the dire threat of hell if they refuse to repent and believe. Grace kindles faith in the elect, and that faith is a coin with two sides: assurance of things hoped for (i.e. full pardon for sins; adoption into the family of God; rich warm welcome from God into heaven, etc.), conviction of things not seen (i.e. a detailed record of sins committed, a deep knowledge of indwelling sin still remaining, a raging inferno of wrath awaiting all the unsaved, etc.).
Conviction in Hebrews 11:1
A careful study of the seventeen times the verbal form of this Greek word appears in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 18:15, John 16:8, and Rev. 3:19) shows that this word “conviction” in Hebrews 11:1 means “a rebuke for sin.” The word has to do with producing evidence of sin to bring about a sense of conviction necessary for repentance. The sting of conviction for sin is what the New Testament has in mind when the word is employed.
Why Conviction is Essential to Ongoing Salvation
Faith’s work of conviction will sadly be needed as long as “sin living in us” (Rom. 7:17) continues to work its havoc. Since the essence of our journey of sanctification is putting sin to death by the Spirit, the ongoing conviction that specific sins are in us is indispensable. Often, the quiet internal voice of the Spirit while we are reading a text of Scripture or listening to a good sermon is sufficient. Sometimes however, if we are blind to indwelling sin, he will need to increase his chastising work on us, in order to bring us to repentance (Heb. 12:4-11). Jesus reminds sinners in Laodicea of his personal zeal to cleanse his church of wickedness: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
A spiritually mature person will fully expect this “convicting” process to be going on regularly in his or her life. Such a person will not bridle with pride when someone confronts him with evidence of his sin, but will be grateful for it and humbly accept it: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). When such a person reads accounts of the sins of the Israelites or of some evil king in the Bible, he will bow humbly and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
If you want to know more about my interpretation of Hebrews 11:1 and the nature of saving faith, please check out my sermon here: http://twojourneys.org/sermon/the-nature-and-effects-of-saving-faith-hebrews-sermon-44-of-74/