What is it? Faith is faithfulness, devotion, dedication, loyalty, and commitment. To ‘believe’ is hence to have such devotion or to be devoted in such a way.
Practicality: We must be faithful, devoted, dedicated, loyal, allied, and committed to God, to His teachings, and to imitating Him.
Popular ideas on what faith is
I have heard many confusing ideas about faith and belief. These days, most of them seem to revolve around ‘belief’, ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’. I consulted a few dictionaries, and have summarised some of the definitions below and added some of the examples:
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing, e.g. I have faith he will arrive; also with the notion of trust, e.g. I have faith this rope will support my weight.
2. Belief; the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting solely and implicitly on his authority and veracity; reliance on testimony, e.g. I have faith the news is accurate
3. The belief in the facts and truth of the Scriptures; especially that confiding and affectionate belief in the person and work of Christ, e.g. I believe He died and rose again for me.
4. Mental acceptance of and confidence in a claim as truth without evidence supporting the claim, and often in spite of evidence to the contrary, e.g. I have faith in the goodness of my fellow man.
5. Belief and trust in God's promises revealed through Christ and the Scriptures, e.g. Hebrews 11:1
6. A feeling or belief, not dependent on evidence, that something is true, real, or will happen, e.g. Have faith that the criminal justice system will avenge the murder.
7. A trust in the intentions or abilities of a person or object, e.g. I have faith in a just and loving God.
8. A set of principles or beliefs, e.g. the Christian faith
It seems most of these ideas are prominent in current Christian culture. Some typical quotes from websites I found
· “Talk to God and tell him that you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins.”
· “Have faith in the death and resurrection of Christ as God’s remedy for sin.”
· “Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the Cross and rose from the grave.”
· “…one must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
· “Do you believe that Jesus lived here as a man, died, rose from the dead, and was seen by many?”
· “Do you now believe in your heart that God sent Jesus to rescue you from sin and certain death?”
· “I lack faith. I do not feel the presence of God or His power in my life. How can I have more faith?”
· “Do you lack faith to know that God is with you? To overcome sin and guilt? To be healed of disease? To believe all things in His Word? Do you lack faith that “all things [will] work together for good” if you love God (Rom. )? To believe God will work out injustices you have received? To believe God will provide for you? To believe that you can endure severe trials and persecution? Or that God will deliver you from them? Do you lack faith to see the soon-coming
· “I have known many people who believed that faith is an intangible “feeling” that cannot be defined. It is often thought to be personal, mysterious and unique to each person. This feeling usually has no definition, structure, or clear purpose and, inevitably, is whatever people want or need it to be.”
· “Others believe that faith is some kind of “positive thinking.” It is as though as long as people take an optimistic view and remain upbeat about events and circumstances, they are demonstrating faith.”
· “…perhaps [the] most common idea is that faith is any general belief that Jesus died for your sins.”
Not to mention the famous 3-line Salvation prayers like:
“Dear God, I admit I am a sinner in need of You. Please forgive me of my sins and give me abundant life here on earth and eternal life with You in heaven. I believe Jesus died and rose again for my sins. I confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. Thank You for saving me. In Jesus' name, Amen.”
Is this really what faith is all about? Does convincing myself that something is true really do me any good? If I jump off a tall building, it wouldn’t help if I was convinced I would float unharmed to the ground. In fact, if that ignorant belief led to me killing myself in such stupidity, it would be quite harmful. What about faith regarding Jesus? Does it really help me to believe that two millennia ago someone died and made some cosmic transaction that enables me to be part of God’s family? How is believing this different to believing that two millennia ago a small green alien by the name of Zrojnig, who flew to a distant galaxy and defeated a race of mutant sardines so that he could persuade God not to press the Button of Cosmic Doom, and that if we believe this story God will give us Eternal Chocolate and won’t send us into the Ravine of Eternal Tickling?
Surely faith is more than just the definitions I’ve listed above? Surely faith should be something real, something we can understand, and something we can see in a tangible way in the lives of Christians? I believe it should be.
My definition of faith
So, what is Biblical faith? I left out one dictionary definition previously, and that is “Fidelity; loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance; faithfulness.” According to most lexicons, the Greek word translated ‘faith’ carried a meaning captured by both “faith” and “fidelity” – in other words, in Greek ‘faith’ had the same meaning as ‘fidelity’ because they were exactly the same word.
In my opinion, faith is what makes one faithful, loyal, committed and devoted to someone or something. The meaning of faith is preserved in the sense of being ‘faithful’, which literally means literally ‘full of faith’. Faith, therefore, is not a mental confidence, nor mere trust, but it is the very thing that makes us faithful. ‘Faith’ encapsulates words like faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, allegiance, and commitment. It would be used to describe a soldier’s loyalty, devotion and allegiance to his commander.
In the Greek, ‘faith’ (pistis) and ‘believe’ (pisteuo) are essentially the same word. The first when it is used as a noun, the second is when it is used as a verb. So, ‘believe’ simply means to be devoted, faithful, loyal, allied, and committed.
How it fits into Christianity
Faith is the foundation of belonging to God. Instead of being selfishly devoted to ourselves, we are to be devoted to God the Father.
Faith is the thing that puts us in the
Often, the Bible speaks of ‘believe in Christ’ or ‘faith in Christ’. In the Greek, these passages read ‘believe to/into Christ’ or ‘faith to/into Christ’. I should point out that because Christ is the head of the Church, if we are devoted to Him, we are giving our devotion to the Father because Christ represents the Father. In the same way, we too should represent the Father in the same way a soldier represents his commander or a knight represents his king. It is because of this that the Bible tells us to have the “faith of Jesus” (check the Greek in Phi 3:9, Rom 3:22, Gal 2:16, Gal 3:22, Gal 2:20, Phil 1:7, Rev 14:12, Rom 3:26, Eph 3:11-12, Jam 2:1, also Mark 11:22 “have faith of God”). This is to be interpreted in the same way that we would understand “Jesus’ faith”. Just like one might wish to having the president’s fame, or Bill Gates’ wealth, or someone’s looks or skills, we are told to have Jesus’ faithfulness. This does not mean we take it from Him, but rather we develop faithfulness like His own. We are to imitate Jesus who is “the chief-leader and perfector of faith” (Heb 12:2) – and His faith (devotion) was to God. Christ our leader and those who follow Him are unified in their devotion to God, so all those who devote themselves to God join into ‘Christ’. By having the same devotion to God as Christ, we become fellow Children of God with Christ, the Son of God, and co-heirs with Him (Rom 8:16-17).
Comparison with popular ‘faith’
I trust it is clear I don’t agree with the popular ideas about faith I listed. I disagree not only Biblical and common sense grounds, but also on practical grounds. In James, we read that “faith without works is dead.” Indeed, our devotion to God should radically affect how we live. The words I have used to define faith - devotion, faithfulness, dedication, loyalty, commitment and allegiance – all speak something greater than merely what we think, and instead are focussed on our heart, our motivation, and what we do. Our hearts should be devoted entirely to God, and all that we do should be for His cause rather than selfish reasons.
So, whole-hearted, self-less devotion to God is quite easily understood, and such faithfulness to God is made obvious by our character and behaviour. It strikes me that popular ideas of ‘faith’ are hardly well understood – even by those who hold them. Popular ‘faith’ is a collection of unseen, emotive thoughts that seem to have little visible affect on how they live, on their actions. No wonder people wonder if they have enough ‘faith’ if their works do not show it. Some even redefine what ‘faith’ so that they don’t have to be devoted to God at all, but instead justify themselves in their self-centred Christianity. Such ideas turn faith inside out, and view it as something we need so that God serves us by blessing us – rather that seeing it our devoted service to Him. Self-centred ‘faith’ is everywhere. For example, why do we hear it preached to ‘accept Christ’ when we’re not accepting Him, but giving our whole-heated devotion to Him? If anything, it is Christ who is accepting us, not the other way around. We are told what we need to do so that God will give us blessings, but the focus of our hearts should not be on ourselves!
In contrast to popular ‘faith’, it doesn’t take a lifetime of learning theology to know whether we have devotion God, whether we need more of it or if we have ‘true faith’. We needn’t trouble our minds about longing to feel more confident that God will do this or that, or wishing we could just believe something more strongly contrary to what our senses tell us. If we do not ‘feel’ close to God, it should not deter our devotion to Him. If He never gives us what we ask, it should not make us wonder if we just need to trust Him more and be more sure He’ll bless us, and it should not undermine our devotion to Him – if anything, it should stir us to be more devoted to Him.
What can undermine my devotion to God? My devotion to God is not largely based on what people say Christ did for me on the Cross, nor the interpretation of a few key Bible verses, nor my ideas about the atonement or justification or sin or countless other theologies and doctrines. My devotion to God is the answer to my question, “to who or what else should be devoted to?” I have already learned being devoted to money or wealth or possessions is ultimately unfulfilling. I also know being devoted to myself turns me into a stagnant, festering pool of selfishness that has no true happiness or fulfilment. I do have some devotion to my family and friends, but there is no one apart from God who deserves my whole-hearted devotion – and that devotion is far greater than my devotion to people. The only thing that could detract from my devotion to God is becoming devoted to someone or someone else instead.
It seems to me that much of popular ‘faith’, however, is quite frail. An unanswered prayer, a new perspective on the Bible or Christ’s work, and their faith quivers and wavers unsteadily – indeed, it may lead them to give up the real Faith. Their mind is filled with doubts and uncertainties, and they are told that such doubts and uncertainties are opposed to real ‘faith’. So, they suppress the questions – and pretend they are satisfied with a shallow Christianity that doesn’t really make sense to them. They don’t really know why they believe what they do, but they cling to it like a monkey clinging to a branch above a river of hungry crocodiles. Yet, they are so preoccupied believing the right things that they hardly do anything that God actually wants.
- Old and new testament faith
There is no difference between the faith of Godly people before Christ and the faith of Godly people after, it is the same devotion to God. People before Christ, therefore, became children of God in exactly the same way as we do now – for God has not changed and so neither has what it means to be devoted to Him.
- What does devotion to God look like in practice?
What devotion to God looks like in practice is summarised in the two great commandments in Mat 22:37-38, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Deut. 6:5) This is the first and great commandment. Mat And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev. 19:18). Jesus also said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (Joh 14:15). Also, “By this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep His commandments” (1Jo 5:2). We can quickly conclude, then, that devotion requires obedience – and in fact they are practically synonymous with reference to God and His commands. If we are devoted to God, we will serve Him, and in serving him, serve others. We should be developing the fruits of the spirit, helping the poor, etc. We need to do what God tells us to do from the Bible and via the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, we are to become more and more like Christ/God in character. Paul writes in 1Co 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am also of Christ,” and in Eph 5:1, “become imitators of God, as beloved children.”
- A look at some verses
An important passage to address is Heb 11, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” This verse is confusing if it is taken as the definition of Biblical ‘faith’, so an explanation seems required here. I think this verse is describing aspects of faithfulness that are encompassed in the Biblical idea of ‘faith’. It’s purpose is not to define ‘faith’, but to describe what should be built upon it. It is highlighting that faithfulness is the foundation for trusting God (‘substance’ = support/foundation, and the word for ‘hoped for’ is means “trust in anticipation” or “hopefully trust”; so it reads “faith is the foundation of trusting for things”). The actions we do faithfully now are also the evidence of our devotion (“the evidence of things unseen”). The rest of Hebrews 11 illustrates the faithful actions of those who trusted God in their actions – to illustrate that those who are faithfully devoted to God also trust Him, and their actions are a result of that trust and devotion. This trust is spoken of throughout Scripture and is built upon our devotion and faithfulness to God. It is not difficult to understand that a child would put trust in her father, because he is her father – but on what basis would that child be able to trust that man if she were not his daughter, and instead a stranger? It is because we are children of God that we can trust Him, and we are children of God because we are devoted and committed to Him. (In a broader sense, we can trust for things we faithfully work towards, and our faithfulness is evidence of that trust. )
Thus, faithfulness to God - faith - is the foundation upon which the children of God stand. The firmness of that foundation gives God’s children hope and trust in Him. But, do not confuse the hope and trust with the faithfulness upon which they rest.
A non-exhaustive list of more Scriptures to illustrate how I understand faith follows. There are many more verses I could list, and the vast majority seem to fit very well with my understanding of it. I have tried to include a few of these more difficult passages.
· Joh that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
o That is, everyone who is devoted to Him.
· Rom 1:5 by whom we received grace and apostleship to obedience of faith among all the nations, for His name's sake,
o Notice “obedience of faith”, which seems to mean “faithful obedience” or “obedience that devotion causes”.
· Eph 2:8 For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; Eph 2:9 not of works, that not anyone should boast;
o God’s grace is illustrated by His acceptance of those who devote themselves to Him, regardless of their past sins.
· Act And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.
o Note that the word for ‘on’ has the sense of ‘onto’ or ‘towards’, so it may saying ‘be devoted towards the Lord Jesus Christ’. Alternatively, it could be metaphorically meaning joining the Lord Jesus Christ in devotion. Nevertheless, it is certainly not merely saying ‘believe Christ died and rose again for your sins.’
· Rom even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference,
o That is, “Jesus Christ’s devotion” – or “devotion like Jesus Christ’s”.
· Romans 14:23b Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
o If doing something is unfaithful, or disloyal, towards God – then it is sin.
· 2 Corinthians 5:7 We walk by faith, not by sight.
o This means we act because of our faithfulness/loyalty/devotion to God, and not because of what we see.
· 1Jo 3:23 And this is His commandment, that we should believe the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He gave command to us.
o In Greek, ‘the name’ carries far more than in English, and is used for everything the name covers, such as the character, interests, commands, or mission of the person. It is perhaps best understood here in the sense of His entire character – His teachings, commands, nature, etc.
· Mar 11:22 And answering, Jesus said to them, Have faith of God. Mar 11:23 For truly I say to you, Whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and be thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be to him, whatever he says. Mar 11:24 Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you.
o It should be noted that you can be committed to something that is not a person – in the sense of being devoted to, or following an idea, rule, code of conduct, goal, etc. Likewise, you can have faith in the sense of ‘active, faithful commitment’ to these things. Yet, note that it is more than ‘belief’ in the English sense, because the Greek word carries with more than mere mental assent – but action in the sense of being faithful to it. So, for example, to ‘believe the Gospel’ (Mark ) is not mere mental agreement, but it is to loyally follow the Gospel.
o First, in v22, it could either be saying “have faithfulness/devotion/loyalty like God’s” – or “have faithfulness/devotion/loyalty toward God”. Jesus states this in answer to Peter’s remark about the fig tree, which Jesus cursed because it had not born fruit. The fig tree, then, was not faithfully producing fruit. It seems, therefore, Jesus was talking about having the undying, committed, total faithfulness that God has – rather than illustrating who such commitment should be directed toward.
o Such an idea is continued in verses 23 and 24. In the Greek, ‘doubt’ means to ‘separate thoroughly’ or to ‘withdraw from’, and appears in this context to have the meaning of withdrawing away from faithfulness. Combining this idea with that of ‘believe’ in the sense of being faithful/committed/following and the meaning becomes rather sensible…
§ “If you decide to move a mountain, and faithfully work toward that goal without giving up on it, then it will get done. So, what ever you pray for, work towards it faithfully with unwavering commitment and it will eventually become reality.”
o Sure, it’s not the meaning most Christians (including myself) would love to give it – but it seems to resound to me with a good deal of commonsense. Compare this with Heb 11.
o Note that this story is paralleled in Mat 17:20, where such faithfulness is likened to a mustard seed… The disciples ask why they could not cast out a demon, and Jesus responded frankly “because of your unfaithfulness”. Their ‘unbelief’ was nothing to do with how much they thought it would happen, their hope, their expectation, and suchlike – but everything with how faithful they had been to God.
· 1Pe 5:8 Be sensible, watch, because your adversary the Devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking someone he may devour; 1Pe 5:9 whom firmly resist in the faith…
o This verse clearly combines the idea of remaining strongly committed with ‘faith’, so that we are not ‘devoured by the Devil’. Again, the meaning is clear – that ‘faith’ toward God is committed, loyal, and unwavering.
· Jam For as the body is dead apart from the spirit, so also faith is dead apart from works.
o Can a soldier in the army be loyal to the commander without doing anything to help the fight? No, loyalty necessitates actions – for otherwise it is not truly being loyal/faithful.
· Jam You believe that there is one God, and you do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
o Note here what the ‘believing’ refers to – ‘that there is one God’. Indeed, the demons are committed to the fact that there is one God – and but they are not committed to God.
· Heb Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised), Heb and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works,
o Again, there is the idea of full devotion to God and His ways, without ‘wavering’ (the Greek here for ‘wavering’ means ‘reclining’ or ‘to slope’). There is also the common theme of faithfulness leading to good works – which is a natural result of being loyal to / allied with God.
· Heb "But the just shall live by faith;" "and if he draws back," "My soul is not pleased in him." (Hab. 2:4; Zeph. 1:6; Mal. 1:10) Heb But we are not of those withdrawing to destruction, but of faith, to the preservation of the soul.
o Here is another clear example of how understanding ‘faith’ as encompassing faithfulness / loyalty / devotion / allegiance provides a much clearer understanding of Scripture, where clearly the loyalty is to God. Note that God is not pleased with those who draw back on their loyalty to Him – becoming unfaithful.
· Heb 12:2 …looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus…
o In Greek ‘author’ means ‘chief-leader’, and ‘finisher’ means ‘someone who perfects – a perfector’. The ‘our’ is not in the original. Thus, the verse tells us to imitate Jesus, who is the chief-leader and perfector of what it is to be faithful/devoted/loyal to God.
· Act earnestly testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance to God and faith to our Lord Jesus Christ.
o The meaning of these sorts of verses should now be apparent – it is not a mental conviction regarding Jesus that saves us, but rather being devoted to Him. We are to be ‘faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ’, by being loyal to Him and obeying His teachings.
· Rom 3:3 For what if some did not believe? Will not their unbelief nullify the faith of God?
o Here we see a clear example where reading ‘faithfulness’ for faith and ‘faithful’ for ‘believe’ makes a great deal more sense. It means, “For what if some [of the Jews] were unfaithful? Won’t their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” Of course, Paul states this is not the case, for God remains faithful.
· Rom even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference,
o That is, we are righteous by having faithfulness like Christ’s.
· Act 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, was doing wonders and great signs among the people.
o “full of faith” = faithful, to God and the teachings of Christ
· Act earnestly testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
o The concept of “loyalty to someone” makes far more sense than ‘belief to someone’.
· Act 24:24 And after some days, Felix having arrived with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, he sent for Paul. And he heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
o Same story here – the Greek says “faith to Christ”. Most of the time when we read “faith in Christ” it either means ‘Christ’s faith’ or ‘loyalty to Christ’, depending on the Greek.