WHAT IS FAITH?
Written by Doug Ponder on June 2, 2013
What Is Faith?
The Scriptures tell us that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) and that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). For those reasons, it’s unbelievably important for us to know faith is.
The Bible is not a dictionary, of course, so we shouldn’t expect to find neat and tidy definitions of words like “faith” listed in its pages. Nevertheless, one of its authors does tell us plainly what it means: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). So, faith is confidence and assurance.
Everyone Has Faith
Everyone has faith in something for we all have “confidence in” or “assurance of” things, even things that we cannot directly see or prove.
This is even true of people who say, “I don’t live by faith. I live by reason.” But how can they demonstrate the reliability of their reasoning without using reason? It’s like saying, “I know that reason is reliable because reason tells me it is.” This person clearly has “faith” in their ability to reason. They may not call it faith, and it may or may not be well-placed faith. Either way, however, they have faith in reason as their confidence and assurance clearly shows.
The same is true of those who say they only believe in the existence of what can be proven with physical evidence, as with the scientific method, for example. These people have confidence and assurance that the scientific method is the only sure means of discovering truth in the world. Yet the scientific method is limited to observing objects with mass or movement. Therefore, someone who thinks that science alone can explain the universe is assuming that nonphysical objects (like God, the soul, personal agency, first-person identity, etc.) are non-existent. Their assumption is a massive faith commitment.
In a more practical sense we have “faith” in many areas. For example, people pursue different lifestyles with faith that their choices will bring them greater happiness, comfort, approval, security, control, power, fame, success, wealth, status, etc. We pursue these through various avenues—money, relationships, careers, a life without kids, endless travel, dedication to hobbies. In each case we trust (another word for faith) that if we obtain more of what we want, it will bring us the result we hope to achieve.
Have Faith in Jesus
Everyone has faith in something. Jesus calls you to have faith in him. Here’s why:
1. As our creator, Jesus knows what he is talking about when it comes to who we are, where things are headed, and how we should live.
2. As the fountain of life, Jesus is the source of everything good. Anything that is truly satisfying comes from him and is found in him.
3. As our redeemer, Jesus himself is the answer to the human predicament—that is, all the evil we see in the world and in ourselves (sin), as well as the reality and finality of death. Jesus deals with both sin and death through his illuminating life, his vicarious death on the cross for sins, his victorious resurrection that gives us life, his giving of the Spirit who is our Helper, and his glorious return to bring an end to all suffering, injustice, and evil.
When the Scriptures say that we are saved by grace through faith, they are talking about faith in Jesus—confident hope in him and assurance of his work on our behalf.
Faith in Jesus Is Not…
Faith is not an experience of God, though faith in Jesus does lead to knowing God and experience life as he wants it to be.
Faith is not our feelings about God. This is great news, because our feelings are often wrong. Whenever someone feels like God doesn’t love them, faith springs into action reminding them to look to the cross.
Faith is not blind trust in God. Faith is trust, but it’s not blind trust. Jesus asks us to trust him on the basis of his goodness, competency, truth, and power, which were evident throughout his life, public ministry, and subsequent death and resurrection.
Faith is not mere belief. The apostle James says, “even the demons believe,” yet they do not trust Jesus for salvation (Jas. 2:19). Faith is a confidence of the heart, not just a mental agreement of the mind.
Faith is not a decision that we make. Faith is not a “choice,” for you cannot choose to have confidence or assurance in something. Confidence and assurance are formed in us as we behold the trustworthiness of someone or something else.
Faith is not love for God. Confidence in Jesus’ work on our behalf does produce in us a love for God and a desire to obey him, but love for God and faith in God are not the same. Faith produces love, not the other way around.
Faith is not good works for God. The Scriptures say that we are saved through faith, not through works (Eph. 2:8, Phil. 3:9). That way we can’t boast in ourselves or in what we have done, but only in the work of Jesus.
Faith is not belief without works for God. We are saved through faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. The Scriptures say that faith without works is dead. It is an unsaving belief in God, but not a genuine trust in him (Jas. 2:14-17).
Faith is not from us, but from God. We can’t do anything to give ourselves more faith. God works faith into our hearts by the power of the Spirit through the preaching of the good news about Jesus (Rom. 10:17).
Faith Means Trusting
Because faith is confidence and assurance, another way to talk about faith this: faith is resting our hearts in Jesus. We can “rest” not because we are sure of ourselves, but because we are sure of Jesus and his ability to forgive us, cleanse us, heal us, restore us, and reconcile us to God.
Therefore, faith means trusting Jesus. It means trusting him with your past, your present, and your future, with your failures and your successes, with your longings and your addictions, with your sins, and with your very life itself.
How can we know that Jesus can be trusted in these ways? Because he has defeated sin and death on your behalf. At the cross he defeated sin, rendering its penalty null and void for those who want forgiveness and trust that Jesus has done this for them. In his resurrection Jesus defeated death, rendering death powerless for those who want live with God and trust that Jesus has done this for them.
For all this and more, we ought to trust Jesus. Only the one with the power to kill death has the power to give life. Anything that promises “salvation” from boredom, misery, despair, insignificance, or meaninglessness, but cannot give you protection from the power of death, is a puny “savior” indeed. But Jesus is no puny Savior. Trust in him.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.