People like things of substance, because substance validates things for us. A bunch of flowers that a man gives to a woman may mean more in a moment than him saying, “I love you.” The flowers themselves are not the man’s love, yet they confirm his love. A hug or a kiss is a quantifiable experience of substance too. A smile that’s shared is simply putting thoughts into substance for those around to receive. Even the atmosphere of a place, whether romantic, solemn, creepy, jolly or quiet is an experience based on substance. Having said that, usually the more concrete a substance is the more real it may seem to us.
With this in mind, consider religion with its array of different things of substance from the paraphernalia of robes, head pieces, beads, to buildings, traditions, titles, creeds, books, etc. all there to help those involved get the full experience. Off-hand, the more religious substance you see around someone the more religious they appear to be. Also, the more we personally interact with these substances, the more religious we may feel. However, it’s because of this inclination to validate or complete our experiences with things of substance that we can easily get duped. You see, besides God’s word, true Christianity needs no outward stuff. In fact, often the less religious substance (tangible things) you see around a Christian, the more real or mature their faith may be.
In the Bible, the book of Hebrews is an appeal to Jewish people who recognized Jesus as their Messiah, but had become uncertain of their new found faith. You see, before Christ came, Judaism was accompanied by a lot of concrete substance. They had the Law, the Ark of the Covenant, the Sacrificial Rituals, Holy Days, the Holy Land, the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Temple, and a history filled with evidence of God’s hand in their lives. In contrast to this, these Jewish followers of Christ had by comparison little in the way of concrete substance surrounding them. Having been ousted by their own people for their faith in Jesus, they had become a mottled group of people, meeting in homes. Not only had their brief history been filled with a lot of difficulty, their faith was accompanied by fewer things outward and tangible which possibly added to any uncertainty they may have felt at the time.
In the book, the author appeals to them by contrasting what Judaism had been to them with what their new faith in Christ now was. He reminds them that what they had, having been spiritually brought into the New Jerusalem, was better. Here is an example of what he said, “For you have not come to something that can be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, to gloom, to a trumpet’s blast, or to a voice that made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. For they could not endure the command that was given: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ Indeed, the sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’ Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to tens of thousands of angels joyfully gathered together, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to a judge who is the God of all, to the spirits of righteous people who have been made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 12:18-24).
The author also wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Other translations use “assurance” in place of “substance.” Either way, we see that faith, although intangible, is nevertheless substance, the assurance that we need. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen.”
The Bible tells us how this faith comes about when it says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). This faith, “substance” or “assurance” is found through hearing God’s word, which teaches that Jesus is our Savior from sin and its consequence, death. This is validated by the substance of both the Old and New Testaments, Jesus’ miracles, His words, death, resurrection and the lives that have been transformed.
All we may really have at times is the unseen substance of faith, yet it’s a faith based on a lot. Appearing to have nothing, we have everything!
Go here for part 2