What Is Faith?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

—Hebrews 11:1

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? Elizabeth Gilbert, an American journalist and author best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, described faith as “Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be… a prudent insurance policy.” 

Faith is the substance or assurance of things we hope for but have not yet received. Faith (confidence, belief, trust) is also our evidence of that which is not seen. Faith comes before a prayer is answered or before an individual has received what he or she has requested from God. If we have received what we asked for, then faith is not needed. An example of this definition is found in Matthew 9:27-30 where two blind men came to Jesus and asked Him to heal them. Jesus first asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and their reply was, “Yes, Lord.” “Then He touched their eyes saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’ And their eyes were opened.” Their faith and assurance that Jesus could give them sight was the substance or reality they hoped for. It also gave them the evidence or trust that they would receive what they asked for. They believed; that is, they had faith in advance that it would be done.

Another example from the Old Testament is that of Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold. Those who refused to bow to the image were threatened with being thrown into a fiery pit alive. In Daniel 3:17-18, the three young Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, told King Nebuchadnezzar: “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver usfrom your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” They did not know in advance how God would deliver them from the fiery furnace, whether at that time by saving their physical lives or later in the resurrection. Their faith or trust was the substance of what they hoped for, and it was the evidence of that which was not yet seen or received.

The apostle James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, uses the example of Abraham, who had both faith and works because he believed God and he obeyed what God commanded him to do. In James 2:18-18, James said, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James gave an example of this in verses 21-22 saying, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” Real 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. We cannot have faith if we don’t show our faith through our works and how we live. Living faith is accompanied by service and obedience to God and His laws. 

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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