What is Faith?

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A Sunday School teacher asked her junior high class, “What is Faith?” A little boy raised his hand and exclaimed, “I know! I know! It’s believing something even when you know it isn’t true.”

Unfortunately, that is a popular misconception held by many adult Christians. It is vital to understand what faith is for several reasons:

  • We become Christians by faith.
  • We live the Christian life by faith.
  • We cannot please God unless we have faith.

Our text gives us the closest thing to a specific definition of faith in the Bible. It is Hebrews 11:1:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NASB)

Struggling with the Christian Life

The Book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century who were struggling with how they should live the Christian life. They knew right well how they should live as Jews:

  • Keep the Jewish law, both written and oral.
  • Worship in the Synagogue with the Jewish community on Saturday.
  • Regularly offer sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem.

The Jewish system was basically legalism:

  • A list of requirements, things to do
  • An even longer list of things to avoid doing

They had difficulty grasping the Christian life of grace:

  • Freedom from the requirements of the law.
  • Worship on Sunday with the community of Christians, which included Gentiles.
  • Cultivating spiritual graces, such as love and service.

They were hung up on the rudiments of Christianity: repentance and conversion; but they were not advancing to the deeper levels of Christian living.

To make matters worse, their Jewish neighbors were persecuting them for their abandonment of Judaism and identification with Christians. Some of them were tempted to revert to Judaism and practice their Christianity in secret, as a sort of sideline in their lives and not the main focus.

The writer of Hebrews warned these wavering Jewish Christians that to revert to Judaism would be spiritual disaster for them. Judaism was the precursor to Christianity. The coming of Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the climax of God’s revelation to which it pointed. To go back to Judaism would be an affront to Jesus Christ, and would prevent them from maturing in their Christian life.

Advance Toward Maturity

Instead, he urged them to advance toward maturity as Christians. To show the continuity between Judaism and Christianity he quoted Habakkuk 2:4:

“But my righteous one shall live by faith.”

This verse, by the way, was the catalyst that inspired Martin Luther to launch the Protestant Reformation. The point the writer of Hebrews is making is that faith is not only the beginning of spiritual life; it is the means by which a truly spiritual life is to be lived on a daily basis.

Assurance of Things Hoped For

“…The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…” is actually not a complete theological definition of faith. It is a brief description of how faith functions in the Christian’s life.

The two statements are parallel and closely related. The first describes what we do when we exercise faith. We experience examples of faith in dozens of ways in our daily lives. When I worked as Chaplain in a hospital, I had an assurance, a confidence that my employer would make a deposit to my checking account every two weeks. Why was I so confident? Because we had made an agreement in writing concerning my pay scale and the bi-weekly deposits, and my employer had kept its word faithfully for five years. I was convinced in my mind that my employer could be trusted to honor the commitments it made to me, and was financially able to fulfill them. For as long as I worked at the hospital, I did not lose any sleep at night worrying whether or not I would get paid for the work I did there.

The same principle applies to our spiritual life. God has made many promises in His Word. Faith makes a conscious decision to accept as a certainty that God is both able and willing to fulfill all the promises He has made to those who believe in Him. The difficulty that faith in God poses is that we usually have to wait a long time to receive the spiritual things we hope to receive. I only had to wait two weeks for my employer to deposit my wages, so it was easy to trust my employer. It is more challenging to trust in God’s promises. John Calvin explained why this is true:

  • Eternal life is promised to us, but after death.
  • We are told of a blessed resurrection, but we are meantime the prey of decay.
  • We are pronounced righteous, but yet sin dwells in us.
  • We hear ourselves called blessed, and meantime are overwhelmed with infinite miseries.
  • We are promised affluence of all good things, but are in all our days in hunger and thirst.
  • God proclaims that He will be ever present to help us, but seems deaf to our cries.

Faith holds on to the assurance that our heavenly Father can be trusted to do what He says in His Word He will do, no matter what the outward circumstances are. C. S. Lewis wrote:

“Now I defined Faith as the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us.”

In other words, faith is continuing to believe what you know on good authority to be true even when outward circumstances seem contrary or baffling.

Todd, a three-year-old boy from Rhode Island, went down to the seacoast to fly a kite. Never having flown a kite before, Todd had obvious doubts. His father assured him that all was well, and the kite would go up as planned. As Todd unraveled the string and watched the kite go up he said, “I knew it would fly, Daddy. You said it would.”

The Conviction of Things Not Seen

Faith is difficult, not only because we have to wait a long time for our hopes to be fulfilled, but also because we cannot see or experience with our physical senses what God is doing and is going to do. The natural man who has no faith is bound by his natural senses. “Seeing is believing.” is his motto.

The man of faith sees spiritual realities that are beyond the unbeliever’s range of vision. I have been studying the Bible for most of my adult life. The future events it reveals are more real to me than the descriptions of current events in the news media.

In my mind’s eye I have seen what it will be like:

  • to be transformed at the rapture into a body that glows with glory
  • to levitate above the earth and soar into the clouds
  • to enter the court of heaven
  • to see the emerald green rainbow arching above it
  • to see the glory of God surrounding His throne
  • to see the light of that glory sparkling on the glassy sea
  • to hear the angels as they shout “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.”

When it is a settled conviction in your mind and heart that the unseen spiritual realities are just as real as the tangible obstacles you are facing, then you will be bold when you face discouragements, you will laugh at difficulties and triumph over temptations. The poet, Whittier, put it this way:

“The steps of faith fall on the seeming void and find the rock beneath.”

What Is Your Focus?

Are you struggling with faith because you are experiencing difficult circumstances? It does you no good to focus on the unknown, to ask questions like, “Why me? or “What did I do to deserve this?”

It will do you much more good to focus on the promises of the Word of God. There you will find assurances of Divinely revealed truth, such as:

  • God is good.
  • God is always kind and loving toward His spiritual children.
  • God is in control of every circumstance.
  • God is working His sovereign will for our good and His glory in every situation.

Faith is not holding onto a belief when there is no basis for it. Faith is our spiritual capacity to receive revelation about spiritual reality and to order our lives accordingly.

To live the life of faith is to be a great optimist. Over in Burma (Myanmar), the missionary, Adoniram Judson, was lying in a foul jail with 32 pounds of chains on his ankles, his feet bound to a bamboo pole. A fellow prisoner said with a sneer, “Dr. Judson, what about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?” Judson’s instant reply was, “The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God.”

J. Ray Smith, President, Fair Havens Publication


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Tweet: Faith isn’t holding a belief with no basis for it. It is receiving revelation about spiritual reality and living accordingly.

Your Invitation to Community

The support of a Christian community is crucial to face a difficult future. Of course, you want to be active in a local Bible-teaching church. Here are two other Christian communities that can benefit you.

There is a growing community of over 80,000 Christians who share the burden of health care costs. The Smith family have been members of this community for many years, and have saved literally thousands of dollars as a result. When one of us went to the emergency room and ran up a $5,000 bill, the community shared the cost with us. It worked!

Here are some of the benefits when you join:

  • Lower Costs Families average around $300 a month, and seniors use an inexpensive plan to supplement Medicare.
  • Choice of Doctor Select your doctor from PHCS, America’s largest network of health providers.
  • Exemption from The Affordable Care Act You will not be required to buy insurance or face penalties.
  • Respect for Your Christian Convictions You never have to pay for prescriptions or procedures that break God’s heart.

If you are interested in these benefits and more that were not described, then use this button:

FYI Fair Havens Publications has an affiliate relationship with the above organization. We neither ask for nor accept donations, but when you join the health care Christian community through our link you are helping Fair Havens continue to provide the helpful free articles on this web site and offer quality Christian publications for sale through our other media outlets.

The Barnabas Community

Here is another way to receive support from other Christians. Become a part of the “Barnabas Community” by subscribing to our free monthly newsletter. Barnabas was an evangelist who encouraged and aided both Paul and Mark in their ministries. His name means “Son of Prophecy”. The purpose of the newsletter is to encourage you to face the future and share your faith with confidence. We invite members to share needs or inspiring experiences.

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