What is Faith?

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

When asked to give a definition of faith, many believers quote Hebrews 11:1.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)  The King James Version is one of the greatest of all English Bibles, maybe the very greatest, but for we who live in the twenty-first century, this approximately 380 year old translation is in many places hard to grasp.  The above passage may be a good example of that.  After having read the same verse in seven other translations, I find that they agree rather nicely with one another and that the Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard perhaps best express this meaning, both using exactly the same wording:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  And yet one wonders if the King James translators perhaps considered the word, assurance, and were not quite satisfied that it carried the full intended meaning.  The word, substance, sounds more solid than the word, assurance.

In any case, this certainly is an important Bible verse in regard to finding out what the word faith means, but it was not intended to be a completely encompassing definition.  The writer was simply telling us something about faith.  A little further on, in verse 6 of the same chapter, he says:  “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.” (NIV)  Verse 1 tells us that faith is an experience of assurance and conviction about things to come and things not yet seen; verse 6 adds that faith is believing God exists, and trusting that God rewards those who seek him.  The two verses are somewhat the same, but verse 6 brings the blurry picture of verse 1 into focus, God himself being the focal point.  Faith, then, is believing in God.  Verse 7a clarifies this even more, letting us know that faith is not only believing that God exists, and trusting that he is a rewarder of those who seek him, but that faith is also believing anything that God tells us:  “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen (warned by God), in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (NIV–my insert in parentheses.)

Verses 17-19 tell us that faith is believing in God’s trustworthiness concerning his promises, and also believing in God’s power to do miracles:  “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’  Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (NIV)  In this last sentence the writer of Hebrews is, of course, referring to the fact that at the last moment, just as Abraham was about to slay his son, God sent an angel to prevent him from doing so.

The rest of Hebrews 11 continues these same thoughts, telling us from examples of Biblical history that faith is believing in God, believing what God tells us, trusting in his goodness, trusting in his power.  Verses 32 to 35 tell us about some of the amazing results that have been brought about through faith, and in the last part of verse 35 to verse 38 we are told how people of faith are persecuted by people of the world who do not have faith.

Another important point, strongly implied throughout Hebrews 11, must be brought to attention in regard to faith.  In James 2:19 we read:  “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (KJV)  It is not enough to believe that God exists.  Even believing what he says can fall far short of the mark.  The demons, after thousands of years of experience in their rebellion against God, must know that God tells the truth.  It is also not enough to believe that God has great power and can do mighty miracles.  Again, the demons know about this, but simply knowing it to be a fact does not make any big difference.  What is missing?  The devils–in modern English versions translated as demons–are not surrendered to God in their minds and hearts.  They are enemies of God.  True faith, the kind that is alive and well and has meaning, must go hand in hand with the greatest commandment:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 NIV)

Therefore I must conclude that faith is: believing that God exists, being surrendered to him in love, believing that he will keep his promises to us, believing everything else he tells us, and believing in his infinite power and everything else about himself that he reveals to us.

Many have the mistaken notion that faith is blindly believing something without having any good reason for doing so.  Others say that all true faith should be based on solid evidence and that we cannot rightly believe anything unless it has been proven in such a way that our intellects can understand it.  Both attitudes are false.  It is foolish to believe something without having a good reason for doing so, but it is just as foolish to think that our finite minds, which can’t even understand themselves, can ever gather enough evidence out of God’s immense universe to conclusively prove anything.  Even more preposterous is the idea that our limited little minds can surround the infinite, eternal God, take a good look at him, and decide that he exists.

Human reasoning has its place and is highly useful when used as intended, but fortunately there is a different way to find conclusive answers.  If reasoning and scientific evidence fall far short–because of our limited minds–in giving us assurance in regard to the existence of God or any message from God to us, wouldn’t it be contrary to God’s great heart of love to leave us floundering about without a hope of ever knowing anything with absolute certainty?–particularly since such great principles and issues of love, worship, obedience, and eternal welfare are involved.

The Bible teaches that God has a way of communicating with us that transcends puny human reasoning and allows us complete assurance.  Jesus spoke of this when he said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27 NIV) Elijah recognized the “… still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12b KJV)  Philip had no problem with it when he obeyed instructions to “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (Acts 8:29b NIV)  Because Philip obeyed, he was able to tell the good news about Jesus to the Chief Treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia.  What is this guidance?  It is the “voice” of the Spirit of God.  It is not a voice heard with the ears, but one heard with the heart.

You say the Bible is the only guide you trust?  How would you know the Bible is God’s word if the Holy Spirit of the living God had not told you that this is so?  We have to start at the starting point: God’s Spirit touching our own spirits with a touch that is unmistakably God.  But it will be unmistakable only when we are completely truthful in our hearts.  It is mankind’s fallen nature to be dishonest, and this is where the confusion comes in; but the more honest and truth-seeking we become, with the help of God, the more distinctly we hear his voice and know who he is:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10b NIV)   And that is what faith is all about.



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