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What Christians Should Know (#WCSK): Faith

Updated on July 14, 2016
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Dr. Sadaphal proclaims intelligent faith that provides clarity and meaningful answers to those who seek maturity in Christ. #WCSK

What is faith?

Faith is an essential idea in the Christian religion, and it plays a central role in redemption (having a restored relationship with God). In fact, Ephesians 2:8 and Galatians 2:16-21 tell us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. The purpose of this hub is to clarify what faith means according to the Bible and to debunk common misconceptions about faith. Certainly, legitimate Biblical faith is never blind, its opposite is not fear, nor is it ever without cost.

How does the Bible define faith?

The Bible defines faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary defines ‘faith’ as “Trust in, or reliance on, God who is himself trustworthy.”[1]

Our English word faith comes from a Greek word (pistis) that implies an awe-inspiring degree of trust. Because faith is, faith operates in the present. It exists because of the assurance of things that are hoped for in the future. So, the foundation that faith rests on assurance, not uncertainty. Where does this assurance comes from? The truthfulness of God (John 14:6) and the anchor of God’s promises. The ultimate promise of God is that those who believe in Christ shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). How is this reliable? Because Jesus already showed us that He conquered death by dying and then coming back to tell everyone about it. This is what those who have faith have to look forward to.

Faith is the assurance just as hope is an anchor—two things that are held firmly in place by something sturdy and reliable. In the rough waters of life, these sturdy weights have enough mass to hold our vessels in place against hostile tides. Faith calls upon us to trust in a changeless God (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8), not changing circumstances.

[1] Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 326.

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Faith is not hope

Hope in a Biblical sense is very different from what people typically mean when they talk about hope. I can hope that when I travel to the market, my son won’t throw a tantrum. I can hope that the stock market performs well so my 401k gets bigger. In these examples, the future is uncertain. Hence, as R.C. Sproul writes:

“When the Bible speaks of hope, it is not referring to a desire for a future outcome that is uncertain, but rather a desire for a future outcome that is absolutely sure. Based on our trust in the promises of God, we can be fully confident about the outcome.”[2]

Faith is not blind

Faith is never “blind.” Why? Because faith always has its eyes open and casts a gaze directly on God, who is trustworthy. In fact, if faith were blind, then you could believe in anything you wanted since that faith isn’t qualified. Because our faith is in a dependable God (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 18:2; Lamentations 3:22-24), our assured faith projects into the future as certain hope:

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19).

So, if someone says, “You must have faith!” the next logical question should be, “In what?” “Faith” in the tooth fairy invariably fails. Faith in Christ brings eternal life.

Dare to believe that a loving and just God invites you to discover His promises for yourself. These promises are located in the Bible, a written testament that anyone can investigate with their own eyes. In fact, the ultimate counter-argument to blind faith is that God sent His Son into the world so that He could talk to people, have dinner with them, and be seen amongst large crowds that used their own eyes to see Him, their ears to hear Him, and their hands to touch Him.

[2] R.C. Sproul, What is Faith? (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), Loc 22, Kindle

Faith is not blind (cont'd)

The New Testament calls upon believers to trust in God based upon historical eyewitness testimony, not a leap into fantasy. Hence, in II Peter 1:16, the apostle says, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

In the end, God gave you your senses, so it makes sense that you use them to find Him. The majesty of The Lord can well withstand the scrutiny of His creations.

The proof of faith

Let’s look at the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 again:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Conviction is translated from a Greek word which means proof or evidence. Faith is therefore the proof or evidence of things not seen. Evidence is something that someone can discern with their own senses. So, while there are many unseen things that a person will not know, there is a tremendous wealth of seen evidence revealed to us in the Bible. For example, what Christ’s miracles and resurrection prove to us is that He reigns supreme over creation and over death. So yes, one may not know what tomorrow brings, but they trust in the God who holds tomorrow in His hands. Because faith has ironclad substance, it is not wishful thinking or the projection of dreams.

Romans 1:20 informs us that God reveals what is unseen through the seen:

“For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Psalm 19:1 says:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.”

The Bible speaks of faith that is “like a child” (Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17) but this does not imply faith that is immature or based on a lack of knowledge. Faith results from use of a person’s faculties (notably hearing God’s Word, see Romans 10:17), not the rejection of reality. As one would expect, then, increasing knowledge of the Bible deepens a person’s relationship with Christ, which increases faith. II Corinthians 10:16 says, “But with the hope that as your faith grows…”

II Thessalonians 1:3 says: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.”

Where faith comes from

People do not “produce” their own faith. Faith is imparted to people as a function of the grace of God, who empowers believers to respond to Christ in faith (John 6:65; Romans 12:3). Our ability to trust God by faith is possible only because God is first faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; I Corinthians 10:13; II Timothy 2:13; I John 1:9; Hebrews 10:23).

Because faith comes from God, who is reliably constant, faith is not a matter of subjective experience or perception—that is, faith is not a matter of what Jesus means to me. If that held true, then the content of faith would change from person to person, and what holds true for one would be untrue for the next. People, circumstances, and emotions change all the time. The reality is that God’s Word is unchanging, and the objective power of faith comes from fact that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Famously, C. S. Lewis was an atheist before Christ found him. This is what he had to say about faith and personal experience in The Weight of Glory:

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

What Lewis is saying is that the experience is never the thing we are sincerely looking for. Rather, the experience is something that we have in pursuit of something else. Objective faith will produce many divergent experiences in the lives of believers, but if a person seeks the experience they may become distracted from focus of the real pursuit: Jesus.

The opposite of faith

If faith means trusting in God, the opposite of faith is not trusting in God. So, the opposite of faith is not fear—it’s idolatry, or putting your trust in something else. In fact, the First Commandment (of the Ten Commandments) is a command against idolatry:

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

HarperCollins Bible Dictionary states that, “in fact, the opposite of faithfulness is apostasy, as for example, in Deuteronomy 32:30, in which the phrase “Children in whom there is no faithfulness” is synonymous with idolatry.”[3] It is perfectly compatible to be afraid from time to time yet still trust in God. Being afraid simply means that you are human, a state in which everyone will spend their life. Consider, as examples, the prophet Elijah who ran away in fear from Queen Jezebel in I Kings 19 (see verse 3), and King David who was afraid of another king (I Samuel 21:12). Both Elijah and David are in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11, a chapter that points out characters in the Bible for their exemplary faith.

[3] Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 327.

Faith is active, not passive

Faith encourages activity: it has life (I Thessalonians 1:23) that manifests in love (Galatians 5:6). Faith moves forward (Philippians 1:25), strives (Philippians 1:27), and increases (II Corinthians 10:15).

Accordingly, because faith is dynamic, it does not cancel out what we do. Why? Because of God’s providence (Proverbs 16:9, 33; Jeremiah 29:11; Job 31:35; Romans 8:28). God’s providence simply refers to the fact that He isn’t absent or “on break” when it comes to the day-to-day affairs of the world. Rather, God maintains and directs creation to fulfill His divine will. Hence, the Bible testifies to the fact that people always end up doing something because they have faith in God.

Consider as an example the well-known story of David and Goliath (I Samuel 17). David had a giant problem (literally). David had faith and did not ignore his reality. Instead, David’s faith (I Samuel 17:37) compelled him to confront and interact directly with his reality:

“Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet [Goliath]” (I Samuel 17:48).

Everyone tends to know how the story ends: David slew the giant. The little shepherd boy who kept his focus on God emerged the victor. To further this point, consider that God did not shy away from our reality. God directly interacting with our reality is how we got Jesus.

The direction of faith

As I hope I have made clear by now, faith is anchored in God’s promises and points toward God. So what separates human desire from faith? Trusting in something that either is not promised by God or revealed in God’s Word. God’s focus is always an eternal one (John 3:16; Romans 6:1-6; Ephesians 2:1-6; Colossians 3:1) because eternity matters more than the present. After all, if you become rich and famous, but in the process lose eternal life, of what value are those impermanent things? So while those who have faith and trust in Christ may receive different types of blessings (e.g., prosperity) God’s ultimate promise is not temporary and natural—it’s eternal and supernatural.

Of course, faith will seem nonsensical to a non-believer, because if someone does not know God and is totally unaware of His promises, they can’t trust Him and lack hope anchored in Christ. They may in fact just think Christianity is about endless rules and subjugation. Ultimately, we can’t earn our salvation nor can we do anything for God. Christ has already done the heavy lifting for us, and our response to this heartwarming realization is faith.

So how does this practically apply to our everyday lives? Because it changes our perspective of the world. People who don’t believe or have the same viewpoint as us are not enemies to be vanquished. They are potential future allies who simply haven’t heard the full story of what God has already done for us through Christ. This is where evangelism comes in, where individual believers and the communal church spread the love and light of Christ in word and deed.

Faith tells Christians how to live

Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous will live by his faith.” This verse is regarded so highly it is repeated three times in the New Testament: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38.

This verse is worth our attention because is informs us that faith is the guiding principle that animates our lives.

Consequently, trusting God means trusting His Word in the Bible, trusting His values, and trusting His ethics. It is by faith, for example, that believers cling to a moral standard that finds validation not in secular or popular standards but in the divine. Having real-life faith therefore means believing God and taking all of His instructions seriously. God took humanity so seriously that He sent His Son to endure the Cross for our sakes.

Is faith compatible with doubt? The story of Peter gives a clear answer.

Real-life faith

What does great faith look like in the lives of real people? We will look at the example of Moses in the Old Testament.

Hebrews 11:23-29 says:

"By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned."

Real-life faith (cont'd)

The story of Moses highlights the principle of inversion. That is, he embraced what was “low” and shunned what was “high.” He embraced what was sacrificial and difficult, and shunned what was easy and what would of brought him personal accomplishment. Why did he do this? Because by faith, he embraced a system of values that ran counter to the rules of the dominant Egyptian culture. This made Moses appear as if he treasured a value system that was “strange” or “weird.” Yet in the minds of the faithful, Moses’s actions represented a sensible response to a trustworthy God. Exodus 2:11-13 says:

"Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."

Moses was a Hebrew. As a child, he was picked up in a basket on the Nile and subsequently raised as an Egyptian by Pharaoh’s daughter. This meant Moses lived “like a king” in the midst of a foreign empire. Yet still, in Exodus 2, Moses encountered a crisis. He could of turned a blind eye to his fellow Hebrew and continued living the high life, or he could of confronted the dehumanization of a vulnerable person. Being indifferent would have maintained a life of comfort, but Moses recognized that a life of comfort filled with foreign standards means nothing if he has lost God and the intentional pursuit of faith. Moses was forced to choose and he chose save his “brother” (this is no way dismisses the fact that murder is a sin), irrevocably changing his life forever. Moses could never go back to the way things were because he chose to “endure ill-treatment with the people of God [rather] than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Indeed, sin feels good but that pleasure lasts but for a moment. For Moses, the treasures of Egypt were no longer a source of security because they did not promise eternal life.

By faith, Moses made a purposeful choice for God and that choice was exceedingly costly. In fact, all the people who are described in the Bible’s Hall of Faith (e.g., Enoch, Noah, Jacob, Joshua) all paid a large sum for their belief. Faith is not cheap, and when you think about what is at stake (eternal life) it compels each and every one of us to ask ourselves: “What am I willing to give up for God?”

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      ChannyNYC 13 months ago

      You've made everything so clear. Thank you so much!