An article called "What is faith?"

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I'm working on some articles designed to introduce new believers to biblical thinking. The following gives four definitions of faith to help folks understand which meaning they are encountering in the scriptures. It follows a chapter on 'How do we know what we know?" and precedes chapters on the Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture.

If you choose, use any part you might find helpful and critique any part where I have fallen short. Sorry, I didn't take the time to fix all the phrases that should be italicized or boldened.

What is faith?

There are certain words in the bible that seem very difficult to grasp. Just when you think you understand what the word means you read it in another passage and your previous definition doesn´t fit. Some good examples of this are the words, glory, world, walk and faith. Trying to nail down the meaning of these words seems as simple as stapling jello to plywood.

In fact, the words are not that complex but they do have several different meanings and each meaning is activated by it´s immediate context. When studying the scriptures it is of utmost importance to keep the verses and the thoughts contained in those verses in their context. The word is defined by the sentence, the sentence by the paragraph, the paragraph by the chapter and the chapter by the book. "œFaith" has a certain set of definitions and once understood it is simply a matter of determining which definition you have encountered in the Bible. Faith is a very important word in establishing how we acquire truth and a misunderstanding of the word can greatly distort our worldview.

You have heard someone use the expression, "œIt´s a matter of faith." This phrase is often used for example in setting our system of religious belief apart from science. The implication being that science is based in fact and religion is based in belief of the unseen. This is true in part but it is wrong to conclude that science is based in fact and it is equally wrong to propose that all facts can be seen. Science is based on unseen presuppositions as well. The so-called facts of science are interpreted through the filter of someone´s worldview. In the end both science and religion stand on a foundation of belief in the unseen.

So what is faith?
Definition one -
Faith is the vital connection between you and Jesus Christ. By vital I mean it is life itself, the abundant life that Jesus spoke of. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 By connection I mean a link, a channel through which new life flows. Before Adam and Eve sinned this vital connection was evident in all the dealings between God and man but sin and the fall broke this connection. Without this connection man became a wise fool. Having been made in the image of God he was still able to reason and make decisions but his perception of God and the world around him now passed as through a dark glass. Our thinking became dull and distorted.

This distortion was compounded by the fact that we tried to cover our guilt by trying to hide from a holy God. The pursuit of self-atonement guided our thinking. The apostle Paul explains this tragedy in the first chapter of Romans.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Without the vital connection between God and man, man at his very best possesses a debased mind. Apart from this connection man can only sin and therefore we are all lost and we are by nature God haters. So as God seeks out his sheep, gathers his people to worship him the first thing that must be done is to restore that very vital connection between God and man. God does this by what the bible calls atonement and this important work of the Son will be taken up in a later chapter.

Here is an illustration to help you understand faith as a vital connection. Those of us who have used land phones know what it´s like to wait on the phone company to establish phone service. You can pick up your phone and listen but you will hear only silence until someone at the company throws a switch. You can push all the buttons you want and it will have no effect. The switch thrower is acting according to his pleasure and won´t throw it until he is ready. Furthermore, the switch is either on or it´s off, there is no middle condition. If the switch is off the line is dead, if the switch is on there is a link to the world. This is what I mean by a vital connection.

Faith as a vital connection is a gift from God, there is really nothing we can do to acquire it. Jesus says it this way - No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. John 6:44 We also see this kind of faith at work in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand - Then he said to the man, "œStretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. John 12:13 It would be foolish to say the man in his own power stretched out his hand. Jesus commanded the man to stretch out his hand because Jesus supplied the healing and power to do so; a vital connection took place between Jesus and the mans´s hand and life flowed into it for the first time.

Faith as a vital connection is either on or off, it is there or it isn´t. Jesus refers to this aspect of faith when he says - 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." Matthew 17:20

It´s not the amount of faith that is important here it is whether or not faith is present. Faith is as powerful as its object. Faith does not give us power to do anything but faith as a vital connection links us to the Creator himself and nothing is impossible for God. Again Jesus reaffirms our own inability when he says - I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 Jesus makes this truth more sure by pointing out that he works through this same vital connection - So Jesus said to them, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

Definition two -
Faith is the ability to believe God´s Word.
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "œHow long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "œI told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father´s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father´s hand. 30 I and the Father are one." John 10:24-30 (emphasis mine)

Jesus in addressing the Jewish leaders speaks here of the vital connection, I know them, and the immediate result of this connection, that is, the ability to believe Christ and his word. If a person is part of His flock than his ears are opened and those who hear the voice of Jesus will follow him.

The faith that we call the vital connection immediately leads to faith as the ability to hear and understand spiritual things. The believer takes this ability for granted but it is such an important gift from our Father and absolutely crucial to our understanding. Paul describes this gift in his first letter to the Corinthians -

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "œFor who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16

We should point out here, as scripture does, that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. This transforming work that takes place at the time of regeneration permits us to make sense of the revealed Word of God. The very things that once seemed foolish to us when we were unregenerate now not only make sense but are the only explanations the have true value to the exclusion of the things we once believed in the flesh.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. There seems to a veil over the eyes of the natural person and therefore intelligence and worldly wisdom give us no ability to discern spiritual matters. Believers will only be frustrated in any argument of spiritual things with an unbeliever. Believers will find that they speak a different language than the unbeliever, for our worldview has been expanded to include the supernatural and miraculous. The unbeliever will not accept the supernatural. The truths of the cross and the resurrection will be foolish babel to the unsaved -

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

"œI will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

Definition three -
Faith is faithfulness, the working out of the first two definitions.

18 But someone will say, "œYou have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18

An important distinction must be made here between faith and faithfulness. No one is saved by works, the believer is saved by saving faith and it is the gift of God. Saving faith is the combination of the first two definitions. Faith is always alien to the believer, it comes from the outside. There is nothing we can do to get it, it is a gift of God´s grace -

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ"”by grace you have been saved"” 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:4-9

Paul gives a similar teaching to the young pastor Titus -
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,... Titus 3:4-5

In these passages and in numerous others Paul gave many reminders that saving faith is not of us and is all of God. However, James points out that true saving faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit must bear fruit. Though good works do nothing to gain us salvation, good works is the clear evidence that God has done a saving work inside us. Paul refers to this connection in his letter to the Philippians.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Great confusion can and has occurred when verse 12 is read without verse 13. We are able to perform the good works of the Spirit because and only because God first works IN us. It is important to understand that the unbeliever may appear to be doing good works but it is only appearance. Because God has not worked in them first the works of the flesh are really works apart from Christ (faith as a vital connection) and whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23b

Therefore, the third definition of faith that we find in scripture is actually the working out of faith, or faithfulness. What does this working out of faith look like? Paul gives a wonderful list in his writing to the Galatians, we call this list "˜the fruit of the Spirit´.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24

Definition four -
Faith is all the elements and teachings that make up the body of what we believe. This is faith as knowledge.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God... Ephesians 4:11-13

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 1 Timothy 4:6

This faith is not just knowledge of God or the Bible but it is a knowledge that has been established and built up by faith as a vital connection and assured by faith as the ability to believe. Through this channel we are being transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ. Part of putting on that image is to learn the mind of Christ, the knowledge of the Son of God. So this knowledge is a knowledge not as the world learns knowledge but knowledge empowered by the Holy Spirit through faith. Because of the working out of our faith we work to share the gospel and God´s revelation with others. This is the faith we have in mind when we speak of sharing our faith with others and of defending the faith.

...and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ...

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Philippians 1:6,27

So in summary, faith begins as a vital connection with Jesus Christ. It is established with God´s chosen people according to his own good purpose. It is a gift of grace. Having received this faith we are also enabled to believe the Word of God - particularly that God sent his Son into the world as a sacrifice for our sin and that Christ rose from the dead. Because God has reconciled us to himself he begins to transform us into the image of his Son. He gives us new desires and teaches us to reject old patterns of behavior (repentance) and to establish new patterns (sanctification). This is the outworking of faith. Finally, all our new knowledge of Christ and His Word can be called faith. He calls us to share and defend this faith for the glory of God alone.

Keeping these definitions in mind helps us when we encounter the word faith in scripture. A good example is the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Called the faith chapter it begins with it´s own definition of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 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. Hebrews 11:1-3

The assurance of things hoped for follows definition two, the conviction of things not seen, definition one. The vital connection is invisible yet it brings both assurance and conviction. The people of old were commended for the working out of their faith (definition three), and finally, faith informs our understanding (definition four) of the universe and it´s origin through the word of God. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is NOT the history of great heroes for God, but rather, of our almighty Creator sovereignly working through weak and stubborn folks just like us all. Faith is the channel through which God redeems His people and accomplishes all His purposes.


You searched for a bit to find one of my orphans didn't you Andrew. Good one. I set you up to hit a homer on that one. I still love you. NOW STOP IT!!! ;)


Puritanboard Librarian
:rofl: Ya got me, man!

(It's a good article though, and I thought you deserved at least a little feedback which I am hoping to encourage. :) )
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