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What exactly is Faith?

What is your concept of faith? Right now, how do you perceive this word, Faith, and what exactly does it mean to you? Faith is often talked about among Christians, and we understand it is an important thing to have in one's life. However, if our concept of faith is wrong, or only half correct, then we are missing a vital, energizing, empowering force in our lives.

It is important to simply let the Bible speak about faith, and for the sake of this article, I will avoid secular helps that often throw in personal interpretation, which shrouds the reality of exactly what faith means, by casting it in a typical "religious" light. Such helps can, perhaps, support the subject, but for this article, I prefer to stay with the word of God alone. Let's first define the word "Faith," and then compare it to what many often confuse for faith.

The word faith is translated from Strongs #4102, which is "pistis" {pis'-tis}, and generally means a conviction regarding the things of God. Faith is quite often thought of as an intellectual pursuit, or is understood as a nebulous, hazy something that always seems just out of touch or sight. As we progress through this study, we will see that faith is far more than might be expected, especially if we let the scriptures reveal its true meaning.

Hebrews 11:1 states, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (KJV throughout unless noted)

Here, God tells us that Faith is "Substance," and "Evidence." In other words, Faith is a tangible, real element in a Christian's life. Faith is the actually evidence of the reality of God, just as a fingerprint is evidence of a particular person. Faith is that firm conviction, the evidence that allows you to state absolutely, "I know."

It is important right from the start to contrast the word "faith" with a word many people confuse for faith or accept in the place of faith. This word is "believe." The word translated believe is Strongs #4100, "Pisteuo" {pist-yoo'-o} from 4102, and means:

"To think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in." It also means: "Mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: INTELLECTUAL FAITH."(emphasis mine throughout)

The word "Faith" is used 229 times in the New Testament. The word believe and all variations is used 159 times. The Bible seems to make a definite distinction between "believing" and "faith," as we will soon see.

The world has long held to the concept that "Belief" is all that is necessary for salvation, and they have based this on the few scriptures that make such statements:

John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Acts 16:31, "And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house."

This obviously states that believing is necessary, but it doesn't tell us that this "belief" will complete the entire salvation process. After all, as James 2:19 states;

"You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble."

Satan and the demons "believe," yet who could argue that Satan or his demons have salvation? As we well know, we can't allow a few scriptures to direct our lives, while we ignore all the rest of the Bible. We need to take all that God gives us regarding the subject, to properly "Divide the word of Truth."

There is no evidence in the Bible that "belief" is the key ingredient in our relationship with God. On the contrary, "faith" is mentioned quite bluntly as a most important element which needs to be nurtured:

Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith [it is] impossible to please [Him]."

That is quite a statement. Here God tells us that belief isn't enough. It takes genuine faith to please God. The apostles who were with Christ for 3 & 1/2 years surely believed Him, but even they asked Christ to increase their faith. (Luke 17:5) They seemed to understand that there was more to the picture than simply believing. It took many years for them to develop the kind of faith necessary for salvation. Let's look at some scriptures that show us clearly that faith is part of a process, and makes possible the righteousness God desires in our lives.

We should understand first that Faith isn't something we can work up. Faith isn't an emotional feeling. It isn't something that we, of ourselves, can generate. Faith has to come from God, and is a key to developing the righteousness God speaks of so often:

Romans 3:22. "Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ to all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference."

Christ's faith in us makes possible the righteousness of God. This, of course, isn't something God blindly "imputes" to man simply for believing in Jesus Christ. Faith is something God grants in measure. (Rom 12:3, 6). without faith we have no righteousness, and simply obeying the outward letter of the law in no way assures us of obtaining righteousness.(Rom 9:30-32) Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God."

God is the "master potter and we are the clay." God has a plan to shape our character, our very being, into the image of Christ Himself. God calls us FOR A PURPOSE. That purpose involves submitting our lives to Him, and willingly accepting His will in our lives. By so doing, we take part in the process. As small as it may be, we have a uniquely human, free willed responsibility in this whole thing. We have the choice to continue or quit. We have the choice to seek God, or to take the easy way. We have the ability to link up with the greatest power in existence, or to ignore or avoid the difficulties and allow the calling to slip us by. . .

Matthew 20:16 "For many are called, but few chosen."

We must grow in faith, because we have to live by faith. (Rom 1:17). If we don't have genuine faith, how can we live the spiritual life God desires? Faith is described as something God uses to purify our hearts. (Acts 15:9) It is described as a "law," (Rom 3:27) and, "The spirit of Faith." (2 Cor. 4:13) These scriptures further substantiate the fact that faith is more than just a feeling or thought. It is a living, dynamic power available to us from God. But it is something that is the result of a growth process in our daily lives.

Romans 5:1-4, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope."

Here we see a glimpse of how we come to receive even the grace we understand is a free gift. Access, by faith, to the very grace of God which saves us! Again in Ephesians 2:8;

"For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God."

Through the experiences of life, we grow toward this righteousness, and the grace which makes possible, not only salvation, but various gifts God has given to us. (Rom 12:3, 6) The only thing which makes all this possible is genuine faith.

Some accuse this explanation as the same as believing in "salvation by works." By this, they state that they believe WE believe personal effort ALONE can bring salvation, and we obviously understand that this is not possible, and hundreds of scriptures make this plain. We understand that the "works" referred to in scripture means the works of the sacrificial laws that Christ's death abolished. Such works we plainly understand couldn't possibly make anyone righteous, nor have we ever thought they could.

To state that works are required for salvation IS A TRUTH, but it isn't the same as saying works are what grant us salvation. God requires something from us. Why else would Christ tell us, "Strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it. " (Mt. 7:14) If belief, or for that matter, faith, were all that God required, he wouldn't have included such words as: obey, overcome, endure, strive, resist, pray, study, be vigilant, submit, draw near, doer, cast down, purge, fight, maintain, wrestle, test, trial, prove, examine, ruling, stir, give... to name some of the action words we are told to be involved with. Faith makes all those possible, and faith comes from God, but we still play a part.

Most Christians perceive the salvation equation as this:

Free will + "faith" (belief) = Salvation.

God makes clear throughout His word that the correct equation is this:

Free will + God's calling + understanding + belief + acceptance/submission + repentance + forgiveness + obedience + faith + enduring = Salvation!

It is clearly a process and includes us. Grace is throughout this equation. God's calling, understanding, repentance, forgiveness, obedience and faith are all from God. without it we would have no salvation. Yet there are aspects of this equation that we play our part in. So we are certainly saved by God's grace, but to say that there are no works required of us by God for our salvation is to ignore the simple truth of God's plan:

Phil. 2:12 "Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." One area where faith plays an important role is that of health. Throughout the new testament, we see examples where faith is mentioned as being the key ingredient in being healed. Let's look at a few:

Matthew 9:28-29 "And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to Him: and Jesus says to them, Believe you that I am able to do this? They said to him, yes, Lord. 29 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it to you."

Christ specifically states that their faith was what made the healing possible.

Acts 3:16 "And His name through faith in His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know: yes, the faith which is by Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all."

Acts 14:9 "The same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed..."

Here again, we see that faith, NOT BELIEF, was necessary for healing, and it was something Paul apparently could discern in this person, via God's spirit.

Another contrast to look at is in Matthew 21:22;

"And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive."

Belief in Him is at least a form of acknowledgment and recognition that He exists. Of course, there are qualifications God places on people that may believe in Him:

Proverbs 28:9 "He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer [shall be] abomination."

So how do we obtain this kind of faith? Based on far more scriptures than this article can cover, lets cover some basic points:

  1. We need to believe God. That's the starting point. Unless we really believe God, and believe IN Him, we can't utilize the power He has available. Yes, millions of people believe in God and Jesus Christ, but is this belief all that God is looking for?

  2. Approach God as if he were real. This may sound simplistic, but too often we can have an arms length relationship with God and Christ. In our prayers, we need to focus on who we are talking to, as if he were right next to us. We need to avoid being limited, IN OUR MINDS, by our 5 senses, because it is with our minds that we transcend the 5 senses and connect with the reality of God's existence. It is ONLY through our minds that we have any contact with God and Christ. Allowing our lack of seeing or hearing God, or feeling His presence, to ground us will only limit a genuine connection that has power in our lives. Keep in mind the plan God has for mankind and make it a part of our daily lives. Only in this way will it become more "real" to us.

  3. Develop and maintain a "Love for the Truth. We can be deceived into believing we have a genuine love for the truth, all the while, having only a love for the IDEA of loving the truth. It sounds great and feels good to think about having a love for the truth, but how does this translate into reality? A love for the truth isn't a once a week thing. It isn't something we relegate just to "spiritual" things. Truth is truth, whether it is spiritual or physical. We can think we love the truth, and yet have no regard for our daily lives and how truth, or the lack of it, can affect our own lives and the lives of those around us. There are so many factors involving our lives from day to day. Truth, in every aspect of our lives, should be at the forefront of our thinking at all times. It governs our every moment's activities. It becomes a way of life.

    The truth should encompasses all we do. Physically, are we aware of how truth can affect us? What about health? Do we think health is purely a physical thing and has no relationship to our spiritual lives? ( Some might be shocked to learn of the relationship between out health and our ability to fulfill our potential) What about child education, correction and development? Is this purely physical? Think about our social and political lives. Is there any truth to be had in these areas?

    A love for the truth MUST be greater than the love for being right. A genuine love for the truth is stronger than our emotions, our hearts, or relationships, our families, or anything else that could get in the way. The only thing that matters is the truth. Anything else other than truth CAN'T POSSIBLY WORK to our ultimate advantage. Embracing anything other than truth cheats us out of reality, and keeps us limited in our potential to God.

    Remember, God chooses to work with human free will. We can chose to play games with ourselves and others, or we can honestly seek the truth, regardless of what it means in our lives. There is no other way to win.

  4. Continually ask God for a humble spirit. Humility has to be one of the greatest strengths a person could have, and the lack of it can also be one of the biggest curses in our lives. Humility makes possible the first 3 points, because we acknowledge the reality of our existence. Humility is a peaceful, relaxed state of mind. It doesn't fret over others, or things. It doesn't have to be in the spotlight of life. It doesn't have to worry about being wrong because it HOPES to discover its errors so it can improve, even if there is some human nature that often delays this process.

    Humility seeks truth because it isn't concerned with what others think if the truth leads them into what others may think is weird or different. Humility works with God, at HIS pace. It is content. Striving for humility can often eliminate many causes for grief in our lives.

  5. Worship God in spirit and truth. (John 4:24) Grow to understand God and Christ more through study, and apply God's word in our daily lives. This doesn't mean set up an unrealistic standard for yourself, then become frustrated when you can't keep at it. It simply means spend SOME time with God's mind in written form.

    Romans 10:17 "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

    Spending X number of hours a week "studying," punching an imaginary "time clock" and "logging" our hours of study, or praying repetitious prayers isn't what God is interested in. Some may think that as long as they have enough time cards punched with all their study and prayer time, then offering that up to God at His coming, will impress God and convince Him they have developed the character they need for eternal life.

    That won't cut it. Many of us have been through that kind of relationship with God and it proves to be unfruitful, and only frustrates our efforts. We can certainly learn things from this method, but feeling like we have to "Put in our time so God won't get mad" only serves to develop a feeling of resentment and anger. It isn't genuine and won't last.

    As we develop a relationship with God, based, "In spirit and in truth," we come to find that many of these processes become more natural. This takes time, just as a child learns to have a more mature relationship with his or her parents. Rather than having a resentful attitude toward what we do, we find a natural, personal way to relate to God. After all, God relates to each one of us personally, so why should we allow what someone else does or doesn't do force us into some mode of action we don't understand or aren't ready for?

    2 Corinthians 10:12 "For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."

    Sure we can learn from others, and seek to implement what we learn, but as Christ stated, we need to worship God IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. That is the goal to keep in front of us.

  6. We need to be diligent, but PATIENT with ourselves. The Bible is full of action words. These action words imply a responsibility we have in the salvation process. We have to work out our relationship with God;

    Philippians 2:12 "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;"

    But we also need to remember that GOD is the master potter, and we are the clay, (Isa. 64:8), and that He is in the process of shaping and refining our character for the purpose of obtaining righteousness. (Mal. 3:2-3) We can't get upset that we aren't changing as fast as we think we should, though. Sure, we absolutely need to be diligent, and be a profitable servant, (Matt 25:14-29) but walking around under a cloud of guilt is far too much of a burden to carry.

    That's why Christ said He would carry it for us. God knows our hearts, so we can't deceive Him by our neglect of our spiritual condition. Yet he is patient with us and understands our human condition, and works with us. (Psalm 103:14 "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we [are] dust.") We can only do what we can do. God doesn't hold us responsible to correct what we don't realize or aren't aware of.

    What we DO realize, we can take to God, in sincerity, and request help to overcome, regardless of what it might be. That is our duty and responsibility, and with God's help, we can make the changes. We have our part to play, through personal effort.

    James 2:17 "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. :20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? :26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

    The effort we put into our relationship with God, can make the difference between a living faith and a dead faith. Faith is the key to our salvation process. Christ is the head of the process and builds faith in us. Yet, even Christ expressed some alarming words regarding faith in the world today:

    Lk. 18:8 "Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?"

    If faith were simply a matter of belief, or even something God just indiscriminately passes out to "believers," then why would he ask this question, if He were completely responsible for faith existing in people? It seems clear that if we let God's word direct our thinking, we can see that this process we have entered into is an incredible, powerful and yet humbling experience, and this should reveal to us God's love, patience, kindness, mercy and forgiveness in a new light. If we really realize we have our part to play, hand in hand with Christ and the Father, then we can expect to grow in faith, and overcome as Christ overcame, to sit with Him on His throne.

    So let's "Stir up the gift of God," and go on to meet with "substance and evidence" that which God has prepared for His church.(2 Tim 1:6)

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