What Is Faith?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

—John 11:25-26

The expression “just have faith, it will work out” is used by people to encourage and comfort someone facing serious problems or stressful situations. But just what is faith as described in the Bible, and does it really work? Faith is one of those words that is commonly used but not always understood. Some of that confusion comes from the many different ways the word faith is used in everyday conversation. The standard definition is: 

Faith: (noun) complete trust or confidence in someone or something; a strong belief in God or the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

One common way people use the word faith is to refer to belief in something despite lacking evidence. But that is not what the Bible means by faith. The closest that the Bible comes to offering an exact definition is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Here we see that the central feature of faith—confidence or trust. In the Bible, the object of faith is God and his promises. Faith means putting your trust in God and having confidence that he will fulfill his promises.

The Franciscan friar and teacher Richard Rohr said, “My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories, but many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution, and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’! How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”

Faith is more than intellectual agreement. Genuine biblical faith expresses itself in everyday life. James writes in James 2:17 that “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith works through love to produce tangible evidence of its existence in a person’s life. James is telling us that we can claim to have faith, but if we do not act in a way faithful to Jesus’ teachings, then we do not really have faith. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” We often hear from the religious right, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” when they refer to the LGBTQ+ community; however, are they genuinely loving the sinner if they are at the same time damning them to Hell? No, of course, they aren’t. It is a phrase they want to use to give themselves peace of mind for encouraging and propagating hate.

Put another way, the obedience that pleases God comes from faith, and that obedience is love. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  God’s “Greatest Gift” is described in 1 Corinthians 13, which is one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible. The chapter ends with 1 Corinthians 13:13 saying, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Romans 1:5 tells us, “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” It is more than a mere sense of duty or obligation. There is all the difference in the world between helping someone out of the pleasure of doing so and one who buys them simply out of duty. It is also more than just mere words. A person must truly have love in your heart for all types of people. A person’s race, religion, gender identity, or sexuality cannot be a prerequisite for someone’s love. We must fight every day for those less fortunate. We cannot let those who are evil win just because they do awful things in the name of faith. We also cannot lose our faith because people do things in God’s name that are not in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We must keep our faith and love God and our fellow humans.

Faith is so important because it is how we have a relationship with God. Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Faith is how we receive the benefits of what Jesus has done for us. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, died to pay the penalty for our sinful rebellion against God, and rose from the dead to defeat sin, death, and the devil. By putting our faith in him, we receive forgiveness for our sins and the gift of eternal life. Ephesians 3:16-17 says, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love.”

Faith means relying completely on who Jesus is and what he has done to be made right with God. Genuine faith is more than just believing in God alone. It includes acting on that faith in one’s life by serving God and obeying His commandments. Remember that the lawyer/scribe asked Jesus in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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