What is Faith?

When it comes to the word faith, people seem to have opposing interpretations. For instance, some often say, “according to my faith,” or “my faith tells me.” Similarly, when speaking of religion we sometimes use the phrase (though erroneously) “of the so-and-so faith,” as in the Jewish faith; Christian faith; Baha’i faith; Muslim faith; etc. In this sense, faith is seen as a religious system. So then, being a person of faith is synonymous with being a religious person. I have, however, heard some comment that they are not very religious but do have faith. That is, they believe in God but don’t trust religion. There is an obvious contradiction here. What makes matters worse when people talk about faith, religious or non-religious, is that scarcely can they articulate a definition that makes sense. Usually you hear some kind of fluffy answer about an ethereal, indescribable feeling.

Most dictionaries include the entry of faith as belief without proof or evidence. This definition is primarily used to describe faith in the context of religion to express that religious beliefs are not based on reality and, therefore, cannot stand to reason. This definition is preferred over the common definition of faith as trust, confidence, or assurance in someone or something, and I can understand why. In many religious communities, faith is expressed and thought of as belief without question, and that if you question your beliefs, you have doubt and do not possess genuine faith. Your faith then is based solely on what your religion says and not anything that can be proven or verified through inquiry. This definitely was the case with Warren Jeffs, former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was convicted on two separate accounts of sexual assault on a child in July-August of 2011,[1] when he coaxed numerous families into offering their adolescent daughters to be his personal sex slaves on the basis that Jeffs’ words were the very words of God. This kind of faith is haphazard and forces us to abandon common sense and rationality. Blind faith is not the kind of faith expressed in the writings that make up the Christian New Testament.

Faith as expressed in the Bible is trust in God, and there are a number of passages in the Bible which help determine this.

Romans 4:3, 19-25 (NIV)

3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness […] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead– since he was about a hundred years old– and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

This passage from Romans tells us that Abraham demonstrated faith when he believed that God would allow him to have a son despite the evidence that it could not happen (Hebrews 11:1). When Abraham finally received a son from his wife Sarah, it was proof of the validity of God’s promises. Likewise, just as God had promised Abraham a son and it came to happen, God’s promise as revealed through Jesus also came to happen, and all the blessings yet to be imparted as a result of that promise will happen as well. The other purpose in writing this was to show that the same faith spoken of by the apostles was exemplified by the patriarch Abraham. This is the same theme in Hebrews chapter 11 where various figures from the Old Testament are spoken of as demonstrating faith in God. This is all to show that faith, or believing what God says, is not a new idea. We see then that faith is meant as believing what someone (in this case God) says is true based on our personal experience and the experiences of others. Simply put, it is trust.

We are all familiar with the concept of trust, as we demonstrate it every day. When we shop at the grocery store, sit in a chair we never sat in before, or when we go to sleep, we demonstrate that we believe the produce at the grocery store is healthy and not harboring any deadly bacteria, that the chair will hold our weight when we sit, and that we will wake up where we laid our heads. We have reasons to trust or not trust things based on our experiences with them.

Apart from communication, trust is probably the thing most needed for a relationship to begin as well as grow. You can’t really contest the importance of trust in any kind of relationship.

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

To some this may seem like an unreasonable statement. But, does it make sense to be friends with someone you don’t trust? It’s kind of hard to keep a relationship going if you have to screen everything about someone all the time. To be clear, there are important questions about God that should be asked, but you shouldn’t expect to know everything at the outset—much like you don’t know everything about someone when you first meet them (and even after you’ve known them for a long time).

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-5 (NIV)

3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

Romans 1:17, 20 (NIV)

17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” […] 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

1 Corinthians 13:9, 10, 12 (NIV)

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. […] 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

If we have questions about God that cause us to doubt Him, we should search out the answers. However, as it says in James 1:5-6, we should not doubt that God will give us those answers.

James 1:2-7 (CSB)

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Our doubts should lead us to questions which in turn lead us to answers. We ought not to stay in doubt but continue to seek answers. God has given us intelligence to understand the world around us and a conscience to discern right from wrong. God would not ask us to trust Him if He could not give us a clear reason to that agrees with these common senses. As it says in Isaiah 1:18, God invites us to reason with Him, to know and understand Him. But we can’t do that if we don’t trust Him sincerely; if we don’t believe that He exists and that what He says is true. If we should ever find ourselves overridden with doubt, let us ask God as did the father of the demon-possessed boy asked Jesus, “help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It’s one thing to know about someone, but it’s another thing entirely to actually know them.

Matthew 7:15-23 (NIV)

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Let us be honest with ourselves, each other, and God about our doubts and concerns, having the confidence to trust Him, and one another, within reason.


[1] CNN Wire Staff. Headline: “Polygamist leader Jeffs sentenced to life in prison.” CNN: CNN.com Posted: 9 August 2011. Accessed: 18 June 2012. <http://articles.cnn.com/2011-08-09/justice/texas.polygamist.jeffs_1_warren-jeffs-sexual-assault-brent-jeffs?_s=PM:CRIME>

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