Serving Christians Seeking to Live a Holy Life

What is Faith?

Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.

(This was first started a long time ago and probably 40 years ago when God first gave me some insight into Faith)

Faith is a topic that is probably the most confused topic in all of Christianity and since Satan is the author of confusion, the mess must be of him.

Most people think that faith is a synonym for believe so they think that they have to believe something is so and it will be so. Others link faith with determination and if they are determined enough that they will develop faith and then they can have what they are determined for. One Bible teacher classes such people as "white-knuckled Christians". They clench their fists in a strong desire to believe something is so and then they can have what they want. People even tell others that they are not healed because they don't have enough faith, or their prayers are not answered because they don't have enough faith. A Christian telling another Christian that they are not healed because they don't have enough faith is an awful thing to say. Joni Erickson had people write her telling her that she was not healed because of her lack of faith. Such letters hurt her very much. We aren't into the power of positive thinking, but what we are into is much better.

Some people use the illustration of having faith that a chair will support your weight allows you to confidently sit in it. Well what happens to your "faith" when the chair breaks? As we will see, sitting in a chair and riding in an airplane are not acts of faith, but rather acting upon our experiences in the world. As Christians we should never use the word faith for a worldly based event. We should say that we have confidence that the chair will support us based upon our prior experience, we have confidence that the airplane will safely get us to our destination; we have confidence that John will come to the meeting with the proper papers, etc.

So how do we find out what faith is? We should always first go to the Bible to see if It offers us a definition of any term or concept under consideration. In Heb 11:1 we indeed read a Biblical definition of faith: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". This verse tells us that faith is a conviction that we have regarding something that allows us to be able to act on it as if it were assured of happening. But where does such assurance come from? A lot of people have the above scripture memorized but then when you ask the question about where does faith come from, you either get a "I don't really know" or somebody saying that it comes from within with the implication that faith is something we develop ourselves.

Now let us go to the Bible and see if It tells us where faith comes from. Heb 12:2 says "...Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith". And Rom 12:3 says " ... God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” These two verses clearly tell us that faith is not something that we do or a presence of mind that we develop, but that faith is a gift from God. Rom 10:17 says " ... faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." So faith is a gift from God that we receive from the word of Christ, which in this dispensation we get from the Bible rather than from a burning bush. So in His time He will allot faith to us as needed from the word of the Bible. In 2 Cor 10:15 we see that faith can grow, so as we study the Bible God can add to our faith.

Rom 5:1 says, " ... justified by faith" and Rom 4:5 says, " ... his faith is counted as righteousness". We clearly see from these verses that faith is not of our doing for that would be a works-based salvation and we know from Eph 2:8, 9 that salvation is surely not from works. However Eph 2:8 says something else that I never hear proclaimed and that is "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” In Eph 2:8 the "it" refers back to faith, which is consistent with Rom 12:3 and the other scriptures above and speakers very seldom talk about that. Faith is a gift from God. Rom 3:28 also says, " ... a man is justified by faith." We read in Rom 9:32 that Israel did not arrive at righteousness because they did not pursue righteous by faith but as though it were by works. If we must muster up our own faith then justification is by works and again we know that is not correct. We also see in Heb 12:2 that " ...Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith." which fits in nicely with what we have already seen. Jesus is not only the author -- the originator of faith --; He is also the one who perfects it in us.

So we see that faith is a free gift from God and comes to us at our salvation (Rom 5:1 and Rom 4:5). In Acts 14:27 we read that Jesus had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles meaning that salvation was now freely available to all through Christ. In Acts 17:31 we read " ... having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." The underlined two words come from the same Greek word that is elsewhere interpreted as faith but in a different tense. Thus it is like a verb and could read " ... having faithed to all men ...” When God gives faith to people, He faiths to us the absoluteness of the truth of Christ.

Rom 9:30-32 tells us that righteousness is by faith. Rom 10:6-10 again tells us that the origin of righteousness is faith, and since all Christians should say that salvation is not by works then we must also say that faith is not by our works lest we should boast. Matt 21:21 is an oft-quoted scripture but read it carefully. It says that if we have faith and doubt not then everything that we ask in prayer, believing, we will receive. How do we get what we pray for? First it has to be based on faith and we have seen the origin of faith is God and not us. So first God has to tell us something will come to pass. Then we act on that faith with a believing heart and we can do so without doubt for God has said so, then the event will come to pass. This type of input is in seen in the Old Testament when God first told His people that the battle had been won, and all they had to do was act it out. I do not mean that God talks to us today apart from the Bible. We are in a different dispensation. The revelation from God is complete with Revelation so do not expect to hear some voice telling you that you are going to get that particular job. God does reveal in His Word all that we need to know to be able to ask according to His will. Please see my article on prayer: Prayer

The above scripture also contrasts faith and belief. Thus faith is not the same as belief. But we must have faith and believe so what does this mean? It means that we must be firmly rooted in our faith. Having faith means that God has given us His insight into something and we are not to doubt it but believe that this faith is of God. Again I must state that this insight comes from the Bible’s revelation of the character of God and not from any other source. We are not to be blown about like a leaf in the wind, getting some faith from God and then getting it mixed up with something else like New Age philosophy or something else. Sometimes we want something so badly for ourselves that it is very difficult for us to believe that God does not want it for us also. So when the faith comes from God about that situation, we don't want to believe it. But if we have faith and believe, we will receive. This means that we will be perfectly aligned with the will of God and not with our will. It is easy to get cause and effect mixed up and that is what happens with a lot of people regarding faith and belief. We can believe because we have faith that came from God. Without faith from God, we cannot believe. Faith is the cause and believe is the effect. A great definition of faith is the empowering of God. God empowers us to believe, trust, repent, hope, etc.

Can our faith be increased? Remember Heb 12:2 says "...Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" so Jesus will perfect our faith in the process of sanctification. The disciples asked, as is reported in Luke 17:5, for their faith to be increased and Jesus answered them by telling a parable in which the interpretation is that they are to serve Him while He is here. In essence He tells them that they have no faith yet in the comparison with the mustard seed. We read in Heb 11 about the great people of faith in the Old Testament. All of them were saved by faith from God that the Savior would come, or in the context of a future Messiah. But after the resurrection God can give faith in the context of Christ having been crucified and resurrected and our faith can grow as we saw in 2Cor 10:15 and Heb 12:2. But always remember "You can't be what you can be until you be what you are". Some are given more faith than others as told us in Rom 14:1 and since such comes from God (Rom 12:3) don't try to second guess God for He had His reasons for giving more faith to some than to others. We shall each have to give an account of ourselves to God (Rom 14:12) and "to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Our increase in faith will come at God's timing and not by our works or at our insistence.

Rom 12:6-8 commands us to exercise our gifts according to the grace given us. We are told that if one of our gifts is prophecy then we exercise it according to the proportion of our faith. No other gift exercise is done according to the proportion of our faith. What is prophecy? It is speaking forth the word of God (not the foretelling of events) and how can we do that ourselves? We can only prophesy what God has spoken and so we can only prophecy with faith from God. All gifts are, of course, from God. God gives some the gift of giving and then they are to give with liberality. God gives some the gift of mercy and they are to exercise mercy cheerfully. God gives some the gift of leading and they are to lead with diligence. But prophecy is done according to the proportion of our faith. Thus God gives the gift of faith to all who are saved and to some He gives more, and they are to prophesy to others. Prophecy is the acting out of faith to others and we then see why Paul said to desire the gift of prophecy more than others (1Cor 14:1-3) because the more faith we have the more we know about God and His ways. That is our goal in life: to know more about God and to grow closer to Him. So faith involves knowing God and His will and in prophecy we inform other Christians of this knowledge of God, which He has given us. In this manner the whole church is edified.

Now look at 1 Tim 1:18-20. Once "in the faith" (another phrase for having salvation and beginning sanctification) we have a fearsome responsibility toward God. Now we represent Him to the world and although we are free and can act irresponsibly in the world, we will suffer the consequences. We can be shipwrecked in regard to our faith. This says that due to our actions, which go counter to the faith that we have from God, we get into big trouble. This does not say that all calamities that come to a Christian is because of something he has done that is counter to his faith. But it does say that this can happen and if trouble comes to us we should certainly ask God and ourselves if we have done something counter to our faith. 1 Tim 6:10 tells us another reason why some Christians have trouble. The love of money can become a desire to the extent that we can wander away from the direction that faith gives us with fearful results in our life. There are many stumbling blocks in the world. My number one rule of walking in the world is "Don't be where you aren't supposed to be". The number two rule is “If you find yourself where you know you should not be, then ‘feet don’t fail me now!’ Look for the exit sign.”

We can also stray away from the faith by becoming too caught up in the search for knowledge rather than for the wisdom, which increases our faith. 1 Tim 6:20-21 speaks of this and we see much of that happening today as so many theologians have become caught up with their pride of intelligence and understanding and so many false theologies have been surfacing lately.

When is our faith completed? Eph 4:11-16 tells us that God gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers in order to build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man. This is talking about what we call sanctification. God provides justification by faith, sanctification by faith, and finally glorification. When we stand before Him in our glorification (Luke 21:36), then will our faith be finally completed or fulfilled.

My wife, Carol, was given an excellent definition of Faith: Faith is the enabling power of God. I really like this as a working definition for it totally eliminates a man-based origin and applies well to all of the above. We then see that

Justification is by the enabling power of God.
Sanctification is by the enabling power of God.
Glorification is by the enabling power of God.
God gives to each a measure of the enabling power of God. (Rom 12:3 paraphrased)

For more information on sanctification and other aspects of salvation please look for the title “Salvation” at my web site: Articles

May God richly bless you in your study of Him.




Web Author: Dr. Leon L. Combs
Copyright 2000 by Dr. Leon L. Combs - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED