This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
Believing What We Cannot See
Faith is a necessary part of the Christian life and allows us to live as people of hope, even when we cannot always see the fruits of our hope. Learn more about the nature and importance of faith from these Scriptures with commentary from the ESV Study Bible.
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
The disciples are not, of course, devoid of faith, but their faith is not functioning properly. Faith can be stronger or weaker (cf. Matt. 6:30; Matt. 8:26; Matt. 14:31; Matt. 16:8; Rom. 14:1). Moving a mountain was a common metaphor in Jewish literature for doing what was seemingly impossible (cf. Isa. 40:4; Isa. 49:11; Isa. 54:10; Matt. 21:21–22).
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Chapter 5 begins with a ringing affirmation of the objective legal standing of the Christian—that the Christian, through faith in Christ, has been justified and declared righteous by God, once for all. The result of this is that the Christian no longer lives under the fear of judgment and the wrath of God but has peace with God, which is not merely a subjective feeling but an objective reality.
“The grace in which we stand” refers to the secure position of the believer’s standing (as a blessing of justification), and the “hope of the glory of God” refers to the promise that Christians will be glorified and perfected at the last day—a hope that results in joy.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
“If you confess with your mouth“ does not mean that a spoken affirmation of one’s faith is a “work” that merits justification, but such confession does give outward evidence of inward faith, and often confirms that faith to the speaker himself. Paul does not mean that people need to believe only this individual event with no understanding of Christ’s death, but rather they need to believe in the resurrection along with the whole complex of truth connected with it, particularly Jesus’ sin-bearing death in mankind’s place, followed by his resurrection that showed God the Father’s approval of Christ’s work (see note on Rom. 4:25). Saving faith is not mere intellectual agreement but deep inward trust in Christ at the core of one’s being.
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Jesus’ response must have surprised the disciples. (What does faith have to do with the cursing of the fig tree?) His point is that they should trust God to remove whatever hinders them from bearing fruit for God. Moving a mountain was a metaphor in Jewish literature for doing what was seemingly impossible (Isa. 40:4; Isa. 49:11; Isa. 54:10; cf. Matt. 21:21–22). Those who believe in God can have confidence that he will accomplish even the impossible, according to his sovereign will.
God delights to “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11) and is capable of granting any prayer, though we must ask with godly motives (James 4:3) and according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Those who trust God for the right things in the right way can have confidence that God will “supply every need . . . according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), knowing that he will work “all things together for good” and will “graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:28, 32). Some have misused this verse by telling people that if they pray for physical healing (or for some other specific request) and if they just have enough faith, then they can have confidence that God has already done (or will do) whatever they ask. But we must always have the same perspective that Jesus had—that is, confidence in God’s power but also submission to his will: “Father, all things are possible for you. . . . Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
A crucial phrase that has been the subject of intense debate. It most likely means primarily “righteousness from God,” so that it denotes right standing before God (a legal reality) that is given to people by God. A similar expression in Greek clearly has this meaning in Philippians 3:9. Romans 10:5 is parallel to Philippians 3:9 and bears the same meaning. It is likely that the phrase bears this meaning as well in Romans 3:21–22 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. However, the expression in Greek (dikaiosynē theou, “the righteousness of God”) likely also carries an additional, fuller meaning, which refers directly to God’s right moral character, particularly manifested in his holiness and justice, and in the way that his method of saving sinners through Christ’s death meets the just demand of his holy nature. Although today’s Western world often regards using words that carry a double sense as confusing and ambiguous, in New Testament times such wording was commonly used to add weight and enrichment. (See, e.g., John 12:32, where “lifted up” refers to Christ being “exalted” by being crucified.) “From faith for faith” probably means that right standing with God is by faith from start to finish. The life of faith is all-encompassing: it is by faith that one initially receives the gift of salvation (eternal life), but it is also by faith that one lives each day. (cf. Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38)
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Since salvation is accomplished through Christ’s atoning death, all human boasting . . . is excluded. The word “law” in this verse probably means “principle,” though some think that a reference to the Old Testament law is intended. If righteousness came through works, then human beings could brag about what they have done. But since salvation is through faith, no one can boast before God.
Justification is by faith alone and does not depend at all on doing any works of the law. Since God is the Lord of all, whether Jews or Gentiles, there can only be one way of justification—by faith.
Justification by faith does not nullify the law but establishes it. That is, the law itself points to the fact that human obedience to the law cannot save and that righteousness can be achieved only through faith in Christ; Christ has achieved this righteousness on behalf of all who believe in him, through his perfect fulfillment of the law and his atoning death on the cross for the salvation of all who believe.
1 Peter 1:6–9
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter realizes that joy is mingled with grief as Christians in Asia Minor suffer various trials. “Little while” denotes the whole of their earthly life before they inherit future salvation. These sufferings are God’s will for his people, so that their faith might be purified and shown to be genuine. Such faith has a great reward, for at the revelation (that is, the return) of Jesus Christ, honor and praise will belong both to Christians and to Christ.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Greek hypostasis, also translated “confidence” (Heb. 3:14). On hope, see Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 6:11, 18; Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 10:23. “conviction of things not seen.” By defining faith (Gk. pistis) as “assurance” and “conviction,” the author indicates that biblical faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future—something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God—will actually come to pass because God will bring it about. Thus biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable “leap in the dark”; rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy—the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation, and who will “never leave nor forsake” his own (Heb. 13:5). Such faith in the unseen realities of God is emphasized throughout Hebrews 11 (e.g., Heb. 11:7, 8; cf. Heb. 11:3) and has provided confidence and assurance to all who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.
God’s creation of the universe was accomplished by his word (Gk. rhēma). So that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible is consistent with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (Latin, “from nothing”), but is not itself a full statement about this reality. It does, however, seem to correct Greco-Roman notions about eternally existing matter. The idea that God created the visible universe out of some other kind of invisible (“not . . . visible”) matter is not in the author’s mind; rather, he is saying that God did not make the universe out of any preexisting matter as humans know it, which is close to saying that he made it “out of nothing.” Further support for this idea is found in Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6, 9; Psalm 90:2; John 1:3; Acts 14:15; Romans 4:17.
Faith includes belief in God’s existence (possibly a reference to Heb. 11:3) and especially in God’s trustworthiness to keep his promise to reward his followers (see Heb. 10:35; Heb. 11:26; cf. Heb. 10:23 and note on Heb. 11:1).
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
There was no basis for boasting at all, for Abraham stood in the right before God by believing, not by doing. Paul uses an example from everyday life. If salvation were based on works, then God, in granting a person salvation, would merely be repaying what he owed that person, just as an employer gives a worker wages for his work.
Under the gospel, however, works come under a completely different equation. Righteousness does not come to those who work for God, since all, like Abraham (Josh. 24:2), are by God’s absolute standards ungodly. Rather, right-standing righteousness comes, as it did for Abraham, by believing in place of working.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
“By grace” refers to God’s favor upon those who have transgressed his law and sinned against him. “But grace” may also be understood as a “power” in these verses. God’s grace not only offers salvation but also secures it. “Saved” refers to deliverance from God’s wrath at the final judgment (Rom. 5:9); “by grace you have been saved” is repeated from Ephesians 2:5 for emphasis. The verb form for “have been saved” (Gk. sesōsmenoi, perfect tense) communicates that the Christian’s salvation is fully secured. “through faith.” Faith is a confident trust and reliance upon Christ Jesus and is the only means by which one can obtain salvation. “this.” The Greek pronoun is neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are feminine. Accordingly, “this” points to the whole process of “salvation by grace through faith” as being the gift of God and not something that we can accomplish ourselves. This use of the neuter pronoun to take in the whole of a complex idea is quite common in Greek (e.g., Eph. 6:1); its use here makes it clear that faith, no less than grace, is a gift of God. Salvation, therefore, in every respect, is not your own doing.
All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
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