September 22, 2019 What is Faith?

What is Faith?

Scripture reading:  Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings (or, baptisms), the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.1

If I asked you right now, “Could you define faith for me?” Would you be able to do it? I do not know how many of you would be able to do it. But I do know this: You should be able to do it. Some of you might be able to recite Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.2

That is the King James Version. The KJV was a very good translation for its time, in 1611. But the English language has changed in the last 408 years. What is a substance? The second half of the verse in the KJV is good. Faith is related to evidence.

If you are able to recite the verse in a modern translation you will get closer:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.3

Faith is an assurance. And, faith is a conviction.  The idea of conviction really does get to the heart of what faith is. But there are two small problems with just reciting this verse for an understanding of what faith is. The two problems are these:

1. This verse does not tell us how we come to a conviction. Other Scriptures do tell us, but not this verse. And, what we leads us to faith in makes a difference of what we think faith means.
2. And, Hebrews 11:1 does not address the amazing misunderstanding that both Christians and unbelievers have about the word “faith.” The biblical word for faith is a perfectly good word – π????? (pistis) in Greek, the language of the New Testament. It is the English word that has caused so much misunderstanding.

So, if you can recite Hebrews 11:1 and offer it as a definition of faith, you get partial credit. But, you do not get full credit because of the two reasons I gave.

We must know what faith is. Our salvation depends upon it! Further, the inspired author of Hebrews tells us that “faith toward God” is an elementary doctrine. It is sad that so many Christians do not even know the elementary doctrines of Christ.

Because there is so much misperception on the nature of faith, we should begin by stating what faith is not.

[1.] Faith is not wishful thinking. This is the concept that so many have about faith. If something about a belief system makes a person feel good or if it gives hope then they choose to have “faith.” In return for their faith they get to feel good or have a hope for the future. Under this idea, everyone gets to choose what they believe because it provides them something. And, it is impolite to question anyone’s “faith.” This is not the biblical, meaning true, definition of faith. Faith is not wishing.

[2.] Faith is not just a preference. If faith is not grounded in anything, which is the popular notion, then it becomes just a preference. You like chocolate ice cream and I like pistachio. It’s not too important who likes what. It just happens to be what we prefer. 

[3.] Faith is not separated from facts or evidence. The idea that many have is that we know things based upon facts and then, for those things that we don’t know, we just have faith. That is not what faith is at all!

Those first three notions are held by unbelievers in general. Although, Christians may unwittingly think in those terms, too. Most Christians, though, know that faith should be supported by evidence. They start out right but then make a different mistake.

[4.] Faith is not just agreement or mental assent. It is not enough to simply believe the facts about who Jesus is and what he accomplished on the cross. It is not enough to believe that he rose from the dead. Now, one must believe those things. If you do not believe those things then you do not have faith. But just believing those things does not constitute saving faith. The demons believe all those things. Faith is far more than agreement.

So, what is faith? We should know first that faith is supported by evidence and facts. I am not saying that it is grounded or based on evidence. I am saying that it is supported by evidence. The foundation of something, anything, is more important than what supports it. We will talk about the foundation of faith shortly. Even though evidence is not the foundation of faith, it supports faith. In other words, if there is no evidence for a belief then we ought not to believe it.

What this means is that faith includes knowledge. We have faith in something because we know it to be true. We have faith in someone because we know that person to be true. If something isn’t true, it would be utterly foolish to believe it! 

Does the Bible establish this understanding of faith? Emphatically, yes! First, knowledge and faith are used interchangeably very often in the New Testament. Just looking at one verse:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.4

Paul expected the Galatians to know that the gospel is from God, not to simply “believe” it in the modern sense of the word. (See these passages for further examples: Isaiah 40:28; 43:10; 45:3, 6; Matthew 9:6; Luke 1:4; John 8:28, 32; 21:24; Acts 2:36; Eph 1:17; I Tim 2:4; 4:3; Titus 1:1; Hebrews 2:3-4; 10:26; 2 Peter 2:20; I John 2:21; 4:16; 5:20; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 12)

Faith includes knowledge. But, how do we come to knowledge? By evidence! 

You remember when Moses went out into the wilderness and had his encounter with the burning bush. The Lord told him to go back to Egypt and let his people go. But Moses replies that they may not believe him. God tells Moses to throw his staff down. It turns into a serpent. He tells him to pick it up. It turns back into a staff. He then tells him to do the same thing before the people. God says:

Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. 5

Not only this action, but every time that Moses performs a miracle, the Lord says, “By this you shall know.” Over and over! Moses does not tell the Israelites to just “take it by faith.” He gives evidence (that God gave him).

When we come to the New Testament we see the same thing. Jesus tells a paralytic man that his sins are forgiven. The scribes don’t think he has that authority. Then Jesus says this:

 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”6

Jesus gives evidence that he has power and authority. Because he gives evidence we can know that he has authority!

In Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost, he says:
 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know7

God gave evidence that Jesus is the only Savior by signs and wonders. Do you know how he concludes this sermon? With these words:

 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 8

Not only know, but know for certain!

Faith includes knowledge gained by evidence. So what is the difference between knowledge and faith? One small difference is that faith deals with the unseen. But this is a very insignificant difference because most knowledge is about unseen things. We see evidence, but most times what we actually know is not seen – think of American history, the air that we breathe, atoms, emotions, logic, love. All those things are unseen. Yet we can know them.

Faith is not less than knowledge. It is more than knowledge. Faith is knowledge with a most important element added. That is trust. We exercise trust in what we know to be true. Faith involves the whole soul of a person. A person uses their mind to come to know. Their heart – emotions – is gripped by the reality of what they have come to know. And, they exercise their will to trust in what and Who they have come to know.

This is the difference between saving faith and a dead faith. There are many who just believe the facts of the gospel. They just have knowledge. But they do not rely upon it. It is only some facts that they have. Saving faith trusts completely and a life is changed. 

* Saving faith trusts in the object of faith and, for us, that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
*  Saving faith trusts in what Jesus speaks. 
* Saving faith trusts in what Jesus commands.
* Saving faith follows. 
* Saving faith obeys.

We all know that CNN is a left-leaning, to say the least, and biased news organization. They seem to support every ungodly cause and are highly critical of those who support biblical positions. Who founded CNN? Answer: Ted Turner.

If you are not familiar with Ted Turner, let me tell you a little about him. 

* He said those who celebrate Ash Wednesday are just “Jesus Freaks.”
* He said anyone who opposes abortion is a “bozo.”
* He said the nation of Israel is a terrorist organization.
* He said that China’s one-child policy is a good policy and we should implement it here in America.
* He said that unless we address global warming most people on earth will die and the rest will become cannibals. By the way, he said that nine years ago, in 2010.
* He said that Iran should be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
* He supports homosexual marriage and abortion on demand by giving large sums of money (He’s a billionaire.) to these causes.

But, did you know that he was raised in a Christian home? He himself has said, “I was saved seven or eight times.” But once his sister died he strayed away from the faith and the more he strayed, according to him, “the better I felt.”

Of course, he was never saved. When he says that he was saved seven or eight times, he means that he made a profession of faith. He believed the facts of the gospel. “Believed” in the modern sense of the word, meaning he just assented to those things. You must know that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people have done that. But that kind of “faith” does not save! These are to whom Jesus refers when he says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven9

Unless they really repent, they will hear these words one day:

‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ 10

No one can come to the Lord Jesus unless it has been granted by the Father (John 6:65). Faith is not a natural act. It is a supernatural act from above. Therefore, we should not be too surprised to see false professions of faith.  Because the wind blows where it wills (3:8) and not all receive this divine wind.

Faith is the result of the Holy Spirit acting upon the human heart, bestowing a grace that we so desperately need! When the Spirit regenerates a human heart, that person believes all that God speaks.

We now can state a biblical definition of faith: “Faith is knowledge held with certainty whereby we recognize all that God has revealed to be true, with a heart-felt trust in Christ and his work.”

See that this definition lays claim that faith is knowledge, which it is. It is knowledge based, or founded, on what God has revealed. And, it includes trust.

I had said that faith is supported by evidence. Although evidence leads to faith, faith finds its foundation not in the world around us –  in evidence- but in God Himself. Since God reveals Himself most clearly through the Word of God, the Scriptures, the foundation of our faith is Scripture.11 And, the means by which we recognize that the revelation embodied in Scripture is the very word of God is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our heart (I John 5:7; Romans 4:20-21; 8:16; Eph 1:13; I John 4:13).

Why have there been so many false professions of faith? Part of the reason is because there has been false teaching regarding the gospel. This false teaching has even been promoted in Baptist churches. Many have presented the gospel as just believing a set of facts. Some responded by saying, “Yes, I believe those things.” Then the one presenting the gospel will tell them that they are saved. Then that person will go through life thinking that they are right with God when their life looks little different than any other worldling. That is not the gospel! Genuine faith not only includes knowledge of Christ and his work (remember, the demons have that knowledge), but a trusting of one’s life, one’s whole life, one’s day-to-day life, over to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because there are so many false professions of faith, let me end by giving three evidences of saving faith. There are more than these three. But these three are prominent among those who think they have genuine faith when they do not.

[1.] Once someone exercises genuine faith, they have a passion to follow and obey the Lord. Every command of God that they become aware of they seek to obey.

9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.12

The apostle could not have said it more plainly. Whoever practices sin, that means doing the same sin over and over, has not been born of God. Whenever we meet someone like this, they don’t need to be invited to church. They need the gospel, the true gospel. They may also need to be told that they have never responded to the true gospel. Many of these people went forward in some kind of Christian meeting and they think they are right with God.

[2.] Once someone exercises genuine faith, they believe everything contained in the word of God, the Bible. They not only believe it, they desire to read it and know it. They have a passion to know and understand God’s will.

After his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said this:

 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 13

He rebuked them for not believing all that the prophets had spoken. Those who pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe are foolish, according to Jesus.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith says this about genuine faith:

By this faith Christians believe to be true everything revealed in the Word, recognizing it as the authority of God Himself. They also perceive that the Word is more excellent than every other writing and everything else in the world, because it displays the glory of God in His attributes, the excellence of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in His activities and operations.14

From this statement we see the passion for God’s Word that accompanies true faith.

[3.] Once someone exercises genuine faith, they love other followers of the Lord Jesus and they display this love by meeting with them in the weekly assemblies of the church, as well as at other times.

When someone does not meet with the local church regularly, this is a sure sign of not belonging to Christ:

 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 15

Do you possess faith? If you do not yet have it, the Lord calls upon you to repent, that means change your whole way of thinking, and to place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you know people who think they are followers of the Lord but are not? Then your duty is to warn them, as Jesus did, that they are not right with God and to explain to them the true gospel, pleading with them to live for Jesus.

Now you understand true faith:

Faith is knowledge held with certainty whereby we recognize all that God has revealed to be true, with a heart-felt trust in Christ and his work.

Without faith it is impossible to please God.





1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 6:1-3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Heb 11:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 11:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 1:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 7:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
8 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:36). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 7:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 7:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
11 This means that we discover that Scripture is in the very strange juncture of being both the foundation of our faith and the object of our faith. For this to be true of any earthly object or set of facts would lead to circularity or, more plainly, to no confidence of any worldly set of facts being true. But, because the Scriptures are the very words of God they carry an authority and faithfulness that transcends everything else. In other words, there is no greater authority than God Himself (and His words). So, there can be no other attestation or evidence that is greater than God and his word. His words are true and self-authenticating. Our Lord Jesus believed this and taught this (Luke 16:19-31; John 10:35).
12 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 3:9–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
13 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 24:25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
14 Chapter 14, paragraph 2.
15 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.