Contrary to popular belief, true faith was meant to be understood!
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Religious faith is disappearing. People no longer trust in the idea of a Creator or His miracles.
Belief in God is tantamount to belief in a “magical being with superpowers who reads minds and grants wishes,” as one atheist so brazenly stated.
Such feelings are gaining traction.
A Pew Research poll updated in 2019 showed the continued trend away from belief in the supernatural. Atheists, agnostics and those with no religious affiliation—collectively called “nones”—make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Interestingly, 78 percent of these “nones” were reared in families with a religious affiliation. Despite spending their childhood in such an environment, half of them cited “non-belief” or a lack of faith as the reason they abandoned religion (ibid.).
The specific reasons they gave for turning away were sobering and revealing. Several statements include: “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things.” “Religion is the opiate of the people.” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator.” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window.” “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it.”
Their answers reflect the growing mix of pessimism, rationalization and defeat when it comes to maintaining and understanding faith.
Where does this leave those searching for, or striving to hold onto, their belief?
A Host of Explanations
The Catholic Church has dominated religion spanning two millennia. It is considered an authority on religious matters, including the subject of faith.
Catholic bishops use encyclicals to interpret doctrinal “mysteries” for their congregants. (The word “mystery” and other closely related terms appear nearly 400 times in the catechism, a summary of Catholic beliefs.) In 2013, Pope Francis used one such encyclical, titled Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), to explain the meaning of faith. In it, he compares it to a “guiding light.”
Building on the analogy, he wrote: “…in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere…The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”
The pope’s obscure words did little to solve the mystery of faith!
Protestants are not much better. In an attempt to clarify and simplify faith’s meaning, they established the tenet of sola fide (Latin for “faith alone”). Their goal was to explain faith by removing the necessity of doing works to achieve salvation, a belief prevalent in the Catholic Church.
This eventually led to many in the Protestant movement rejecting the role of outward acts of faith in Christianity, claiming that faith or belief alone is all that is required. This meant that your faith could not be seen by others—making it even more mysterious and difficult to understand.
Both the Catholic and Protestant explanations fuel those who reject organized religion. They have little choice but to see faith as something unable to be understood and all about spirituality or a series of mushy-sounding proclamations based on feelings.
Secularists believe faith is all about confidence and being strong-minded. To them, faith boils down to maintaining optimism in a bad situation and keeping a positive attitude.
The Bible calls faith a “mystery” (I Tim. 3:9), which is why so few understand it.
Yet God’s Word also says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6).
Therefore, faith is a mystery God wants us to solve!
What Is True Faith?
Scripture says that faith is beyond having hope or confidence. The Bible clearly separates these qualities. Notice: “And now abides faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love]” (I Cor. 13:13). Hope is obviously separate from faith. Additionally, Christians are told in Hebrews 10:35 to “cast not away therefore your confidence,” just before three verses later saying “the just live by faith.” Confidence and faith are also different.
Believe it or not, the Bible does give a very straightforward definition of faith. First some context.
Immediately after a promise of Jesus Christ’s Return to Earth, Scripture says, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:38-39). God is saying that He is not pleased with those who “cower” or “shrink” from believing Him. Despite what may seem like intimidating or unbelievable circumstances, God expects people to believe Him and save their lives as a result.
A natural question coming off this is, “How can I resist the urge to doubt God in seemingly impossible circumstances and believe Him instead?”
God immediately in the next verse tells us that doing this takes faith and He defines it. Notice: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). See this as an equation, “Now faith is…” What follows is the biblical definition of the word so few seem to understand. Scripture says faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We should examine each key term for greater insight. (Definitions are based on Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The serious reader will want to examine these for himself.)
The first word, “Now,” meaning but, and or moreover, connects the subsequent definition of faith to the end of the previous chapter as already shown. (There were no chapter breaks in the original text.) The word “faith” means persuasion or conviction. From here, God, through Paul, specifies what this faith or conviction is. He describes it as both a “substance” and “evidence.”
Substance means a setting under or a support. This indicates that faith is the support or foundation upon which hope is built. (This is proof that faith is different from hope.) Faith is the support upon which an expectation is based. You fully expect something to transpire because it is resting on your faith.
God also calls this faith evidence, meaning proof.
People know what evidence is. Evidence in a court of law is proof shown to determine guilt or innocence. Yet God uniquely differentiates the proof of faith from proof shown in a courtroom. He says faith is evidence of “things not seen.” This is vital to understand.
Human beings depend on their five senses to observe the world around them. If evidence cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt, it is deemed non-existent. On the contrary, true faith, by definition, cannot be observed. It goes beyond the senses.
The faith or belief itself is the evidence that everything will work out as God promises. This is why we are told to “walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
Related to “things not seen,” one can only hope for something that has not occurred. Once an expectation is seen or comes to pass, there is no further need to hope for it. This further ties the first and second parts of Hebrews 11:1 together.
If the previous explanation remains unclear, consider the following. Even non-religious faith can meet the criteria of “things hoped for” or “things not seen.” For instance, a skydiver boldly jumps from a plane based on the faith that his equipment was rigorously tested by the manufacturer. His faith is based on the hope that the manufacturer maintained their previously trusted standards.
A young mother confidently drives away from the mechanic despite having not personally seen the mechanic reattach the brake line on her vehicle. Her only evidence for putting her life and the life of her children at stake is the work order she signed at check out. In both cases, people took action based on their faith or belief in something.
Where faith in skydiving equipment or brakes on a vehicle differ from godly faith is that there is no absolute surety that everything will work out as hoped for—which could lead to catastrophic results.
What makes the faith of Hebrews 11 different is that it rests on something fail-safe—something absolutely guaranteed. The only things in the universe fully guaranteed are God’s promises.
Importance of Faith
You should now see faith more clearly. It is not merely a label for a certain religion or denomination. It is not a character trait used to describe someone who seems religious—as in “he is a man of faith.” It is more than having blind hope that everything will work out. It also goes beyond just believing Jesus died for the sins of mankind. Faith is much bigger than all this. It is a basic “doctrine of Christ” that should be understood early on by a Christian (Heb. 6:1).
Faith is unique in Scripture in that it is on two short lists. It is both a fruit of God’s Spirit as well as a gift of God’s Spirit. In describing God’s character, Galatians 5 says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…” (vs. 22-23). Faith also joins wisdom, knowledge, working of miracles, prophecy, healing and speaking and understanding different languages as gifts given and manifested by the power of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:4-11). Appearing on both lists elevates faith in importance.
Being named as a fruit of the Spirit makes faith one of God’s character traits. Are you surprised by this? Most would assume God simply wants His followers to have faith. Yet this is not the case. God Himself has faith. This is why Christ, who was God manifest in flesh (John 1:1, 14), displayed it so well.
Jesus demonstrated faith perfectly during His earthly ministry. He was willing to die for what He believed. He knew His Father’s plan and stuck to it through the excruciating pain and suffering of a corrupt trial, gruesome beating, and eventual crucifixion. His faith was obviously much more than having a positive outlook on life or remaining optimistic or upbeat.
Because it is also a gift, godly faith is not something we can work up on our own. While we can and should have a certain “human faith” according to the Hebrews 11:1 definition, we are justified, or made righteous, by the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16). Did you catch that? Notice it did not say faith in Jesus Christ, but instead said we must have the faith of Jesus Christ. This is important to understand. We must have Christ’s faith in us—which comes through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we must grow in faith. Remember “doubting Thomas”? It was reported to him that the resurrected Jesus had been sighted. Christ said all along He would be brought back from the dead, yet somehow Thomas doubted the reports. Perhaps he believed for a time but lost sight once he observed Christ’s brutal torture and murder by the Roman government—in effect his senses took over. It eventually took Christ telling Thomas to physically put his hand into His side before he believed.
Jesus went on to differentiate those who believe based on His words alone from those who need tangible proof to believe (John 20:27-29). These are just a few of the many verses that explain the subject of faith.
What about the belief that faith alone is required to receive salvation? This scenario is impossible. Full-fledged belief and trust in God always leads to action. This is the reason James said that “faith, if it has not works, is dead…” (Jms. 2:17).
Faith in Action
For people to have true faith in God, they obviously must know who He is. With this in mind, read the following powerful verse in I John 2: “He that says, I know Him [God], and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (vs. 4).
Evidently, it is not a matter of just believing in God. Demons do that (Jms. 2:19). Belief must manifest itself in action, namely obedience to what God requires. This was James’ point in the previous verse, in which he inextricably tied actions or “works” to faith. It is by our actions that our faith is demonstrated to others—including God (vs. 18).
True faith compelled servants of God to do extraordinary things. Paul practically boasted of their exploits throughout Hebrews 11.
Abel demonstrated his faith by sacrificing the very best of the “firstlings of his flock.” Literally burning something of value for the sake of his Creator took faith. His offering was deemed “more excellent” than his brother Cain’s offering of firstfruits from the ground (vs. 4). There is no indication that Cain took the time to select the very best (Gen. 4:2-4). Cain’s offering was ultimately rejected, leading him to kill Abel in anger and jealousy. This shows that a demonstration of true faith can lead to physical death.
Enoch also pleased God through his faith (Heb. 11:5) and walked with Him during his life (Gen. 5:22-24). After referencing Enoch, the book of Hebrews states that God is a “rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (11:6). Enoch demonstrated sustained faith over an extended period of time, which will lead to a reward. This is another primary example for us.
Even those with little Bible knowledge have heard the story of Noah and the ark. He built the large boat to save his family and the animals from a coming flood (vs. 7). Though Noah had no proof that a rainstorm of a magnitude never seen or recorded before would occur, he dutifully heeded God’s warning. By his actions, he “condemned” his neighbors who chose not to take God at His word. By faith, Noah believed God and saved his life and the lives of his family. We can do the same.
Abraham, often called the “father of the faithful,” is revered for taking God at His word.
For instance, after 75 years of building a life for himself and his family, he immediately departed his homeland upon request by God (Gen. 12:4). To show his gratitude after victory over four kings in a military effort to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14-16), Abraham faithfully obeyed God and gave part of his wealth to pay tithes to Melchizedek, King of Salem (vs. 18-20). Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:1-4). Parting with hard-earned funds in obedience to God takes faith. Abraham knew his action would result in God blessing him (Mal. 3:10).
Abraham also believed God when He promised that his wife Sarah, faithful in her own right, would give birth to a son even in her old age. Later, Abraham was willing to sacrifice this same son without argument. He knew Isaac was a part of a promise that Abraham would father many nations (Gen. 12:2) and thus God could bring him back from the dead if necessary (Heb. 11:19). This is despite there being no “evidence” of any resurrections until that point.
While Abraham had faith his descendants would grow into “many nations,” this did not happen during his lifetime. God spared Isaac and he went on to father Jacob, whose sons gave birth to the 12 tribes of Israel.
Abraham’s faith ultimately led to some of the most powerful nations today, as explained in David C. Pack’s book America and Britain in Prophecy.
God was true to His word!
The list of faithful servants and their actions goes on. Joseph’s faith led him, against insurmountable odds, to become co-ruler in the most powerful nation in the world at the time. Moses, in faith, chose a meager existence over power and prestige. Though mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22), he decided “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25).
Rahab (Joshua 2:1-22), Gideon (Judg. 6-8), Barak (Judg. 4-5), Sampson (Judg. 13-16), Jephthah (Judg. 11-12), Hannah (I Sam. 1:1-20), and David (I Sam. 17-18), whose stories are detailed in Scripture, all displayed remarkable faith. They could obviously “see” something that others could not (Heb. 11:27).
Jesus wonders whether He will find faith on the Earth when He returns (Luke 18:8). He knows what He will be looking for, and now—so do you.
True faith does not waver. It is a complete and total belief in God, whether you fully understand His ways or not. If your faith in God depends on whether He does things the way you think He should, then it is misguided. God recorded promises He will perform for His people. These promises are sure. However, God does not always say when or how these promises will be fulfilled. This is where faith comes in. We must simply believe that God will do what He says in His own time. Sometimes the response comes immediately and sometimes it comes after a while.
Though we may not know the method or the timing of God’s intervention in our lives, we can know His will for His people. The Bible contains these promises. In order to claim them, we need to know what they are. Our requests must line up with His will. To know what is and is not His will, we must study His words to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
Studying His Word will also cause our faith to increase, since faith “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17).
Faith does not have to remain a mystery. God says there is “one faith” (Eph. 4:4-5). It is not the counterfeits offered by the world. It is a gift that, if accepted, leads to eternal life. Faith is an unwavering belief that God will perform the promises contained in His Word. This belief must be followed by action.
For more understanding of faith, read the booklet What Is Real Faith? Study it with an open Bible and prove it for yourself.