What is Faith?

I am speaking, of course, specifically of the Christian Faith, the kind that Jesus calls people to put in himself, as the Messiah, as God’s divine Savior.

There are numerous ways to describe the human condition and means of salvation within the boundaries of orthodoxy. Even the Bible describes it diversely. Bible uses the term ‘salvation’ even diversely.

Biblical Uses of Save/Salvation.

Eternal

  • John 3:17
  • Romans 5:1
  • Ephesians 2:5, 8

Gradual

  • Luke 9:24
  • Romans 5:9-10
  • Hebrews 7:25

Spiritual

  • 1 Timothy 2:15
  • I Timothy 4:16
  • James 1:21, 5:20

Physical

  • Exodus 14:30
  • Mark 3:4, 5:34
  • Acts 27:20, 34

National

  • Isaiah 35:4
  • Jeremiah 30:10
  • Luke 1:71

Genuine faith that leads to salvation has several features to it, involving repentance, humility, intellect, and otherwise. God has been gracious to give us examples of faith. And, the person who is quoted three times in the New Testament as a model of faith, is Abraham, twice by Paul (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6) and once by James (2:14-26).

In Romans 4:3, which is Paul’s quotation of Genesis 15:6 it says “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. “Believe” and “faith” are clearly the same thing, “believe” simply being the verb we use, and faith being the “noun” to describe the same concept.

Anyways, faith has no power on its own. You have to believe in, or on something; faith takes an object. You always have to believe “in” something: whether it be yourself, some sort of purposeless existence, or the one, true God,  What Abraham believed in is God.

But, the question becomes more precisely too: ‘What did Abraham believe about God in order to believe in God?’ Well, from the story in Genesis, chapters twelve to eighteen, there are six things he had to assume (using his reason and intellect) about God in order to have faith.

  • God is alive (Gen. 12:1-4, 7; 15:1)
  • God reveals himself (Gen. 12:1-3, Gen. 15:1-5)
  • God is capable of doing what he promised (Gen. 12:17; 13:13-15; 14:22; 15:1: 15:14)
  • God is willing to do what was offered by grace (Gen. 12:1-3).
  • God is faithful to accomplish these promises (Gen. 18:25-26).
  • God is righteous in doing these things (Gen. 18:25-26).

Now, these are the things revealed to Abraham which he had to recognized before he exercised faith. Definition: As good as this all is, it is not quite New Testament Gospel, using that phrase to mean good news that results in salvation. “Gospel,” especially in Romans, does not mean just what is required for salvation, but the good news of all the work God has ever done, is doing, and will do, from eternity to eternity. But, nowadays, it most commonly used to talk about now the requirements of an individual person’s saving faith. So, I’ll use ‘gospel’ in that way here.

Because we live in an era where God has already revealed his Son, there are two features that need to be added on account of progressive revelation.

  1. God resurrected (by definition, lived, died, and lives) [Rm. 10:9] (Innately implying incarnation).
  2. God reveals himself (Romans 10:17)
  3. God is capable of doing what he promised (Romans 10:13).
  4. God is willing to do what is offered by grace (Romans 10:11).
  5. God is faithful to accomplish these promises (Romans 10:10).
  6. God is righteous in doing these things (Romans 10:3).
  7. God does these things [only] by the name of Jesus (Romans 10:17).

Now obviously a person does not have to have a complete understanding of every facet of what these things mean, or be able to trace it out in this way. If that were the case, we would all be in trouble. But, there has to be the most simple sort of recognition, whatever that is, of these things, often called a’knowledge of facts’ and ‘assent to knowledge.’ And actually, I think people, even and especially children, naturally can recognize things much quicker than they can explain them properly.

Consider when you look at a picture of an island, tropical paradise. You see the sea, the sand, the waves, the sun, the palm trees, the sky, and potentially some wildlife. When you look at that photo, in an instant you have recognized the whole scene.

Now, something particular might stand out to you, like how bright the sun is, or how light the sand, but the basis for your understanding in one moment is not by step by step looking at each object and making an orderly, rational conclusion, but your understanding is all at once, seeing all those objects in relationship to each other.

The same I am saying about your eyes upon that photograph is for the mind when it considers faith. The little parts that make up faith all happen and are recognized all at once.

So, what I am saying is the seven things listed here are not seven steps to receive the gospel. These seven things are so basic that all seven elements can be said in one sentence. If you were to witness to somebody, you could include all these basic concepts in this statement.

“God willingly sent Jesus Christ, his Son, to live, and die as a punishment for sin, so that you may believe and have eternal life, and He guarantees this because He Himself rose from the dead three days after he died.”

This should sound oddly familiar, much like John 3:16 right?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The major difference is that my sentence explains briefly what it means that Jesus was sent (or in the language of John 3:16, “God gave”), while John actually takes the next eighteen chapters to explain what it means that God gave Jesus. He was not trying to condense the gospel as much as we are].

  • (Another difference, which some people might notice, is that I omitted the term ‘love.’ That’s not because God’s love is not important, but because the term “willingly” in the context of the sentence actually takes on all the major characteristics of ‘love.’ I have implied the word without saying it, just like ‘repentance’ is implied in acts of ‘faith’.)

Moreover, God is not subject to His to love, as if love were above God; but, He wills, wants, to love, and therefore does. Just think how God is not subject to anything else, he is sovereign, and could do whatever He wants, not bound to any kind of concept or creation of His).

Beyond this, faith always simultaneously involves humility (James 4:6), repentance (Acts 2:38), submission to Jesus as Lord as well as the desire and want to know, love, and obey Christ.

Diverse Scriptural Descriptions of Faith:

Scripture diversely describes the nature of conversation, the core of which we would call ‘faith.’ Limiting the texts to the New Testament [a list that probably isn’t exhaustive], for purposes of clarity and simplicity, faith is described as such.

  • (Mark 1:4) John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
  • Mark 1:14-15) Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Matt. 16:25) For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
  • Matthew 18:3) “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Mark 16:16) “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
  • (John 6:40) “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
  • John 6:51; 53; 58) “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves…” This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
  • (John 11:25-26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
  • (Acts 2:38) Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • (Acts 3:19) “Repent and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.”
  • (Acts 5:31) “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
  • (Acts 10:43) “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
  • (Acts 15:3) Paul and Barnabas “passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles.”
  • (Acts 26:18) “…open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
  • (Romans 10:9-10, 13) …that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation…for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • (Ephesians 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • (Philippians 3:9) …that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
  • (Hebrews 9:28) so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

What True, Christian Faith Is Not:

There are different sorts of faith, even in concepts Christian can affirm, that are not true and saving [James 2:19].

  • “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.”

• In this passage James says one kind of faith is proper faith, and there is another kind of faith actually does not save. It is a kind of faith, but it is not legitimate. Those types of faith are not true, Christian faith. We often talk of a world that does not have faith; the secular world, we say. But, what we mean is that the world does not have good faith. I think we would find the world has much more faith than at first sight.

True, Christian faith is not doubt. [Matt. 21:21, Romans 14:23]

• Seemingly obvious, yet this sometimes has to be said. Without denying Christians can and do struggle with doubt, a Christian has overcome doubt at least once, and has the power from God through the inward presence of the Holy Spirit to combat that doubt and believe instead God is truly who he says he is, as revealed in Jesus Christ.

True, Christian faith is not merely conviction (Cain compared to Abel) [Gen. 4:3; Heb. 11:4], [Mark 7:1-7]

  • Cain felt convicted to bring and offering to the Lord, but did not do so in faith. The author of Hebrews says that only Abel brought a sacrifice in faith. It is not simply the feeling that we ought to do something. That feeling provokes a response, giving you opportunity to act in faith, but guarantees nothing.

True, Christian faith is not heartless obedience (Confrontations with the Pharisees) [Mark 7:1-7]

  • “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me” [Isa. 29:13]

True, Christian faith is not simply recognizing something is true. [Luke 8:27-28; James 2:19]

  • “He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.”

Intellectual ascent to theological truths (such as Jesus is God) is not heart-knowledge, nor does it entail repentance, and as summarized is not saving faith.

What True, Christian Faith Is:

True, Christian faith is a gift [Philippians 1:29, Romans 12:3, Ephesians 2:8]

  • “For it has been given to you for Christ’s sake to not only to believe in Him, but to also suffer for Him” [Phil. 1:29]
  • “God has allotted to each person a measure of faith” [Romans 12:3]
  • “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it isn’t of yourselves, but is the gift of God.” [Eph. 2:8]

I want to be among the first to admit that I don’t completely understand precisely how this operates and corresponds to our own free choices; but, the biblical teaching of Scripture is that faith itself is a gift.

Notice that this is not just the opportunity for faith, that God foreknew who would act in faith towards his message, but actually the giving of faith itself.

[As far as grammatical details on the Ephesians passage, there is no need to be a scholar of Greek to notice that the word “it” is actually quite ambiguous here. Either Paul is being repetitious and tellings us grace (which by definition is already a gift) is a gift of God, or he is actually saying that faith is a gift of God.

(There are far longer discussions of this verse that are well defended on either and any perspective, but my best understanding of the passage, tentatively and with and open hand, involves what I just described.)]

True, Christian faith is obeying the Gospel message [Romans 1:5]

When a person hears the gospel, they have opportunity to accept or reject it. But the gospel itself, God’s word demands that it be accept as true. So, true, Christian faith is obeying what God calls a person to do.

True, Christian faith, is taking true testimony to be true [2 Thes. 1:10]

  • (i.e. Faith is accepting truth [John 20:29])

Some people, even Christians think that faith is irrational. In fact, it may be the majority opinion.

However, faith is supranational, beyond rationale. C.S. Lewis said, “Faith never demands the sacrifice of intellect,” but proper interpretation of the facts as enabled by the Holy Spirit provokes a person to have faith.

True, Christian faith is confidence in Jesus’ word [Matt. 8:1-13]

True, Christian faith initiates a legal transaction that guarantees righteous results [Romans 3:27]

  • Paul talks about it in terms of the ‘law of faith.’

True, Christian faith at its first moment, is accompanied by the Holy Spirit [Gal. 3:2]

True, Christian faith produces sober reflection, comparing ourselves to Jesus [Luke 7:38, 50]

True, Christian faith produces much love [Luke 7:47]

True, Christian faith can be strengthened [Luke 17:5, Acts 14:22; 16:5, Romans 1:12; 4:20]

  • Paul talks about his faith being strengthen by certain churches even as he strengthens their faith.

It is done mutually. The moment you become a Christian you have opportunity to strengthen other people’s faith in a new and special way simply by who you are, what you do, and what you say.

  • “I believe! Help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:24]

Certain kinds of unbelief can co-exist in a person who truly believes the gospel message. On this side of perfection, true Christians have unbelief intertwined in their thoughts, meaning they have certainly have true, saving faith, yet simultaneously as they live their lives often practically put faith in other objects, self or others. As Christians grow in [true] faith, their trust in other objects recedes. There are certain aspects of every Christian’s life where we have misplaced faith in ideas or objects.

When the father of the boy whom Jesus healed cried out “I believe! Help my unbelief,” he was not being contradictory. People who believe what is required for salvation, therefore becoming true Christians, sometimes do not believe other things about God’s word or nature that are indeed true. (Speaking of Abraham) “Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

Summary

This is by no means a comprehensive account of what good, true, precious faith is, but I hope it summarizes some of the key points. Overall, I would say faith is a welcome receiving of Jesus for who he really is: Prophet, Priest, and King; by saying ‘welcome’ I mean a willing, joyous, coming. One of the best analogies is the parallel to marriage.

When a man marries a woman, or a woman a man, the faith is the reception of the other. We couldn’t rightfully call the results a reward, like a woman earned the man as a reward, or the man earned the woman; though it is certainly not a reward, all the while the man and woman become the possessors of all which the other has. That is the way it is too with Christ and the church.

The union, the reception, between Christ and his bride is the basis for faith and its fruit. Human marriage is not perfect, but there are things that have to be expected from this union, from this faith. If the faith was really real, these are the things that inevitably come. Again, not everyone shows these things in the same way or to the same degree, but these are the things faith produces.