What is Faith?

Popular ideas about faith vary widely and can be misleading. Many religious people think faith is a mystical gift from God that enables us to understand and relate to Him.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines faith as “strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”.

Others may be more sceptical and add the word “blind”, their view being that faith lacks reason or evidence.

So, what is faith?

Bible-based Faith

The Bible is the key source of knowledge about God. Therefore, faith in God is best considered by consulting the Bible itself. In the rest of this article, this ‘Bible faith’ is what we are talking about. True faith in God really does involve substance and evidence.

The Bible is not an indiscriminate collection of writings. Although it was written down over at least 1,500 years by many writers from different countries and backgrounds, it presents a wonderfully unified and consistent message. One of its many consistent messages is the nature of faith.

Perhaps the greatest example is Abraham, one of the earliest characters in the Bible who lived around 2000 BC. Although he lived such a long time ago, his example is a major strand of first century Christian teaching, with numerous references in the New Testament. Paul wrote:

Only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).

This is very important because it shows that true faith has remained essentially the same since the time of Abraham until now.

It is also helpful that the faith and activities of Abraham to which Paul refers are recorded for us in Genesis chapters 12–22. Go and read them for yourself! The faith of Abraham and indeed those of all ages is described like this:

He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Let’s consider two further real-life characters.

David, King of Israel

David was king of the ancient nation of Israel, reigning for 40 years in about 1000 BC. He was their greatest king, and, with the help of God, was able to continue the establishment of the nation as a kingdom. David wrote many of the Psalms in our Bible, and he is referred to with great respect by his direct descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

To find out about David’s faith we could turn to many passages, in both Old and New Testaments, but let’s look at two examples.

From the Start

In 2 Samuel 7:1–17 (near the beginning of his reign) we read about long term promises God made to David and to Israel. These stayed in his mind throughout his life, and his meditations on them appear many times in the Psalms.

Although God described him as “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22), David suffered some very difficult times as king. Yet he clung to the belief that God had a settled and prosperous future for him personally, and for his descendants.

David died without seeing these promises completely fulfilled, because the complete fulfilment is through Jesus, who would come 1000 years later. But we read: Your (royal) house and your kingdom shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).

David believed that he would personally witness the outworking of God’s plan. There is only one way this can be understood, and David explains it: You will not leave my soul in heol [or, the grave], nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life (Psalm 16:10).

David believed that God would reward him by raising him from the dead to see this with his own eyes.

Towards the End

In words spoken at the end of his reign, we see David’s faith in God as a real being who was watching, listening and interested in David. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer (2 Samuel 22:2).

This is not typical of ancient rulers, many of whom claimed to be ruling on behalf of a god. By contrast, David recognises the ultimate power of his God to control all the elements of the natural world in dramatic outpourings of support for His chosen subjects.

David saw his God: …upon the wings of the wind … the Lord thundered from heaven … He sent out lightning bolts … the foundations of the world were uncovered at the rebuke of the Lord (v11–16).

David describes his faith in God’s abilities in a dramatic a way; but expands in verses 25–28 to describe the mercy and faithfulness of God towards him. God’s care for His people is consistent, merciful and ongoing – we can have faith in this too.

Mary, Mother of The Lord Jesus

Mary was told by an angel that by the power of God she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Since she was a virgin, she knew that the conception of the Lord Jesus was one of God’s most amazing miracles.

The stigma attached to a woman having a child apparently out of wedlock doesn’t dampen her faith. She knew it was the work of a God who exists and was about to change the world through her child:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour (Luke 1:46–47).

Like David, she knew that God is all powerful, nothing can prevent His purpose:

For He who is mighty hath done great things for me (v49).

It is worth reading Luke 1:46–55 to see this song about her faith. It shows her confidence in God’s faithful care (v55) and in His promises made to Abraham, David and others (v55).

What About Us?

Belief in God Himself, in His power, His faithfulness and His rewarding kindness and mercy to those who trust Him, are consistent elements of the faith of these great characters. They knew what God had said, and they trusted Him completely.

We can find out what God has promised, and what He wants from us, in the Bible. From here, faith can grow. It isn’t restricted to clever people, it isn’t some mystical experience, and it doesn’t require extra divine intervention.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

It is as simple as that. Anyone can have it and it is the only way God will accept people who wish to approach Him:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Of course, we don’t have to read the Bible, it’s entirely our own choice. But if we don’t read God’s Word, we can never fully understand true faith. We may be able to have some sort of faith, but it won’t be faith in the God who really exists and really is a rewarder, and so it won’t give us what God is offering in His promises.

God’s promises are still to be completely fulfilled: the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the earth to finish God’s work in establishing His kingdom and bringing in a time of peace and righteousness.

Those who have believed His Word and respond as God asks are promised everlasting life in that wonderful time. This certainly includes Abraham, David and Mary.

If you and I share their faith, then it may include us too.

Jon Walker