What is Faith?
Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Personally, I like to read verses 1-3. Let's do that now.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Let's break this down a little bit. We see that the author provides a description, "not a definition", of how faith works. Faith is established conviction of concerning things unseen and settled expectation of future reward. The Geek word translated "substance" literally means a "standing under", and was used in a technical sense of "title deed". The root idea is that of standing under the claim to the property to support its validity. Thus, faith is the tittle deed "of things hoped for". Throughout the chapter the writer emphasizes that assurance rests on God's promises. "The elders" were the OT saints, many of whom are mentioned in this chapter. They obtained a "good" report, not because of achievements, personal holiness, or passive acceptance of divine promises; but by an active certitude expressed in obedience, persistence, and sacrifice. As for the word "worlds", that may or may not signify ages and time.
Again, let's break it down even more, going deeper still. Substance by definition etc is confidence, assurance, conviction, and reality. Be encouraged by examples of faith, power and the promises of God's word. Faith is the theme of the christian life. Some how and some way faith is in all circumstances and it provides examples of how in itself it works. It reveals the power that works in every situation and reveals what pleases God. Examples of peoples good reports paints pictures for us. They show us who was involved in the worst of circumstances, maybe even the worst of sins, yet, through their faith, they literally changed more than their life, they changed nations. We are not just called to just observe the good news; we are called to change the news from bad to good, by telling everyone about the good news, the gospel. The elders changed the news and through their faith they were delivered. God encourages us and He speaks about how wonderful these people were and about what they did. The kind of faith they expressed in challenging circumstances gives us courage. When our Faith in God is active, whatever our circumstances are, it unites us with the patriarchs. Faith works if we work it.
Therefore brothers and sisters, regardless of what circumstances and situations we go through that may give us bad reports, nevertheless, we are to have faith in the promises of God's word. So stand under that claim as His children, and do not settle for lesser rewards. Be expecting His favor and blessings; so that we too may obtain good reports for a good testimony to change the news form bad to good using the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.