In society, we have certainly heard many opinions and definitions of the word faith. People will say things like they are having faith that they will get married or that a business deal will go through. People also often invoke the word “faith” when things go as they desire. In these contexts, we define faith as a cosmic force that can manifest our deepest desires, but only if we stay positive and sustain a belief that our desires will come to pass. But is this really what faith is?
In other scenarios, people will say they have weak or no faith because they’re struggling with sin, finances or even sickness. Others with a less sensitive conscience will say that they have faith in God, yet they are living a double life. In this context, faith is defined by one’s feelings instead of a life of obedience to the Lord. Let us see what the Word of God says of what faith is.
Biblical Definition of Faith
The most obvious portion of scripture we can begin by looking at is Hebrews 11:1, which says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The keywords here are “assurance” and “conviction.” We learn from this verse that faith is not a vague belief. It is a firm persuasion in the mind and heart. It is based on steady confidence and joyful anticipation because it is founded on “assurance” and “conviction”. The Greek word translated as “assurance” is also in Hebrews 3:14, translated as “confidence.” So faith is assurance, conviction, and confidence.
Because of the inescapable doubts that come with faith, many don’t think such words should describe it as assurance, conviction, and confidence. However, just because doubt is present doesn’t mean our faith is still not based on assurance, conviction, and confidence. For example, consider that sugar is sweet and salt is, well, salty. If you mixed and tasted the crystal mixture, you would taste both sweet and salty flavours on your tongue. All crystals that tasted sweet were sugar, and all that tasted salty were salt. The presence of salt does not mean that sugar does not exist and vice versa. This example signifies our life journeys consisting of faith’s sweetness and doubt’s saltiness. The sweet things, faith and its substance, consist of assurance, conviction, and confidence.
Doubt is what questions, while faith is what believes. This is why a man said in the gospel of Mark, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The belief that comes with faith is what he wanted more of, but it was mixed with unbelief which he wanted less of. We are a lot like the man in Mark 9:24, and like him, we should desire more of the fire of faith and less of the smoke of doubt. But remember, with the smoke of doubt, there is also potential for the flame of faith to come ablaze.
Faith is What is Hoped For
Faith is also described in Hebrews 11:1 as that which is “hoped for” yet “not seen”. There are things that are hoped for in the Christian life, like redeemed bodies (Romans 8:23), a spotless church (Ephesians 5:27), and a perfect world (Revelation 21:1, 2 Peter 3:13). How can we have assurance, conviction, and confidence that these things will indeed come to pass? The answer is that faith trusts what God has promised. Faith rests on the promises of God. We see this in the book of Genesis when God gave the first promise after Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3:15. He promised that he would send a saviour to crush the head of the devil. This gave Adam and Eve hope that salvation would come. From this, we see that faith rests on the promises of God, and faith ultimately is what brings forth hope.
Next, Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the “conviction of things not seen.” We don’t see things such as Christ being exalted at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33). Those who are in Christ are forgiven, loved, and destined for glory (Romans 8:29), but we don’t see that yet. Lastly, things may not seem as though God has sovereign control over everything in our lives and the world (Isaiah 46:10). However, it is a present reality that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19) and that we’re destined for glory (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), but, we haven’t seen these things happening yet. Even though we don’t see these things, we are sure of them because they have been revealed to us through scripture, and faith believes what scripture has revealed (John 7:38, 20:29).
Faith Presupposed a Divine Revelation
Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not actually made out of what is visible.” We did not see God create the world and the universe, but God has revealed it in his Word. He told Moses, “In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void. My spirit hovered over the waters. I spoke and said let there be light. I formed the first man from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 1:1-3, 27). Faith believes in what God has revealed.
Faith presupposed a divine revelation. It rests on what God has said. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). If God had not spoken and had not made Himself known, faith would be impossible (Romans 1:19-20, John 1:12-14, 14:6-10). We could have no assurance of things hoped for, no conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). We would only have speculation, vague hopes, dreams, and opinions about what might be. But here’s the good news, God has spoken, which is why faith is possible (Hebrews 1:1-2). Faith believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised. Faith rests on the Word of God. Faith believes in what God has revealed (things not seen). Faith trusts what God has promised (things hoped for).
Faith is Not Natural
To be clear, faith not an athletic, artistic, or musical ability that some of us are naturally born with. It is wholly God-given (Ephesians 2:8-9). If faith were a natural ability, it would be unfair for God to judge us based on a lack of it in different circumstances (Matthew 8:26). But since faith is a gift from God himself (Ephesians 2:8-9), it believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised. God has given the same knowledge and promises to all those called to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:1-4). Therefore, none of those called to Christ can have an advantage over each other regarding faith (2 Peter 1:1).
Some people reading this will be sceptical, thinking faith is not based on any compelling evidence but on some mystical gift. However, as seen in the gospels, people came to faith in Jesus by getting to know Him (John 2:1-11, 4:7-43, 5:1-17). Jesus invited people to know him, walk with him, and believe in him (Mark 2:13-17); we see this with the disciples who followed Jesus. On the day when he spoke to the wind and stilled a storm, his disciples openly proclaimed, “You are the Christ” (Mark 4:35-41, 8:29). Their faith was based on compelling evidence. We, like them, can get to know Jesus and have faith in him through the Scriptures (John 20:29, Luke 24:27). It is, therefore, imperative that we spend time in the Word, which will, in turn, by God’s grace, lead to the strengthening of our faith (Romans 10:17).
Instead of relying on cultural definitions of faith, let the Scriptures guide you to what faith is. Then hold fast to the One who founded and perfects our faith daily (Hebrews 12:2).
Living by Faith Series by Pst. Colin Smith