The Nature of Faith

Updated: Nov 12, 2020


Hebrews 11:1-3 (HCSB) Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it. By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.

Frank Smith had a long day at work. He clocked out at 6 pm knowing that he would not be returning the next day. Frank lives in the city and his apartment is only three blocks from his job. Each step is filled with untold stress. His days of working at the company came to an end when his boss said the dreadful words: “We are downsizing.” Now, he must find another job quickly, or else his family will be in trouble. Two blocks away from his house, Frank stops and reaches into his pocket to answer the ringing phone. It is his pastor, who, having seen the text from Frank about his misfortune, decided to check on him. The call ends with the pastor saying: “Have faith Frank, the good Lord has a plan for you.”


If you are a Christian, that classic line “have faith” is all too familiar. But, what does it mean? What is faith? Is faith reasonable? Did the pastor use “faith” in the right context? A further investigation must and will be made to find and understand the nature of faith.


Examples of Faith

Hebrews 11:1-2 (HCSB) says: “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it.” The word “hoped,” used in this verse, can be translated as “trust” or “hope.”[1] “Hope,” in today’s world, is often associated with something that is wanted and nothing more. However, in this context, “hope” is something wanted—with belief in its validity or truth. So, an easy way to understand "faith" is to think of it as belief manifested. While that definition does not give faith total justice, it does provide a basic idea of what faith is.


In verse four, an example of faith is given: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.” So, what is the “reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” in this example? First the “we” the author is talking to is most likely Jewish Christians.[2] Within this context, the author is saying that because you make your reality one in which God created the universe, it is understood that the invisible created the visible realm.


Hebrews 11:6 says: “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” What is the “reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen?” The reality of what is hoped for or the reality for what is believed is one’s belief in God manifested—living a life that is a testament to one’s belief in God. So, without this faith, one is living a life that is not a testament to one’s belief in God—if one believes in God. So, if you live a life that cries out, “God does not exist!” how can you please God?


Hebrews 11:7 says: “By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family.” This is an example of faith in which Noah manifests his belief in something that has not yet occurred. This is possible because, although the event has not yet occurred, Noah has knowledge of it. So, it is by that knowledge that Noah could have faith in something not yet seen.


Before going deeper into the nature of faith, one more example of faith must be given. In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus heals a blind man:

46 They came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” 48 Many people told him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; He’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Rabbouni,” the blind man told Him, “I want to see!” 52 “Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road.

How did his faith heal him? Was it not Jesus who healed the blind man? The blind man believed that Jesus could heal him, and so he went to Jesus. Jesus could heal him, and so Jesus chose to do so. The blind man was healed by Jesus, but it was by his faith that his healing becomes a reality—because he believed and went to Jesus. Without his faith, he would have remained blind. Which is why Jesus said: “Your faith has healed you.”


The Nature of Faith

In the beginning, I said that faith is belief manifested. I also said that definition does not give the nature of faith justice. So, consider the following three explanations of what is faith:

  1. Faith is belief in certain knowledge to be true, but that knowledge has not been experienced or has not yet come to fruition.

  2. To have faith, one believes and acts in a non-physical/timeless reality. For it is by faith that one acts on things not seen or not yet seen.

  3. Faith brings about a different reality in which the individual lives according to things not seen or things hoped for.

There are two ways to have faith. Faith can be had in the non-physical now, or the non-physical future. An example of having faith in the non-physical now is to have faith in God and therefore apply that knowledge to one’s life—thereby becoming a testament to an unseen reality. An example of having faith in the non-physical future can be seen when Noah, having received knowledge from God that the earth would be flooded, starts building an ark. Noah applied that knowledge of a future event to His life by acting on it. He built a boat for an unseen reality that has not yet passed.


Faith in Christ

Faith is an integral part of Christianity. Ephesians 2:8 says: "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift" (emphasis mine). How does this aspect of faith work? Meaning, how is it that—through faith—we can be saved?


Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The act of believing in the gospel is an act of faith—therefore it is credited to us our righteousness (saved by grace). There is an important difference to distinguish here. There are acts of faith and a life of faith. An act of faith is a one-time occurrence, but a life of faith is a life devoted to that faith. Meaning, a life of faith consists of multiple and continual acts of faith.


To illustrate this idea, consider the example set by Indiana Jones in the “Last Crusade.” Indiana receives some pieces of knowledge claiming that the Holy Grail exists and that it is possible to find it. He believes it to be true and manifests that belief by going on a journey to find the grail. Indiana comes up against many challenges all of which he perseveres through because he has faith that this unseen Holy Grail is real. Every challenge he faces is an act of faith—that, together, points to his life or journey of faith in this quest. In that journey, he has to take a pretty big act of faith in which he steps out into a chasm that supposedly has an invisible bridge. By doing so, he commits a great act of faith in which he has the knowledge that there is an invisible bridge, believes it to be true, and manifests that belief by taking that first step.


Romans 5:12-21 talks about the idea that Jesus is the new Adam. Through Adam, death entered the world; but through Christ, eternal life is possible. Once we have faith in Jesus, we are no longer of death but of life. We have, as Galatians 3:27 says, put on Christ or clothed with Christ. This means that, with that act of faith, we have a new identity—in Christ. So, being in Christ, one is guaranteed eternal life as a son of God.


Romans 6:1-14 explains, that because we are free from sin, we should pursue life. It would be foolish to go back to our old enslaved-to-sin identity when we are free from it. Therefore, while we are guaranteed eternal life, we should not go back to our old master—sin. We should pursue a life that fits with our new identity as a son of God. This new life, as some may say, is a godly one—one full of goodness, or, more accurately—love. As Romans 1:17 says: “…The righteous will live by faith.” This faith is a life of faith. One in which, as Christians, we continually live as a testament of who we are—sons of God.


Salvation

I would be amiss if I did not share how this faith in Christ is obtained or, more accurately, received. Meaning, how can one be saved?


Five Points to Know:

  1. You are a sinner

  2. The penalty for sin is death

  3. Jesus, the son of God, took this penalty upon himself

  4. Jesus died and rose from the dead on the third day

  5. Now by believing in who Jesus is and what He did you will be saved

Point 1 says that you are a sinner. An easy way to show this is to point to the Ten Commandments. Consider the following two commandments: Have you lied? Have you stolen? The Love and the Law essay explains why, as the Bible says, just breaking one of these commandments makes you guilty of them all. I think it is safe to say that you have lied, and you have stolen—making you guilty.


Point 2 says that, as Romans 6:23 says, the penalty for sin is death. Sin is in direct contrast to the nature of God. To sin is to claim a new God. It is to say that God’s supremacy is wrong. God is the bringer of life (not only in the physical sense), whereas sin is the bringer of death. Polar opposites. To sin is to choose death. You chose death.


Point 3 says that Jesus, essentially, took your penalty for sin—death—upon himself. Jesus, who is perfect, took your penalty for you.


Point 4 says that Jesus died and rose from the dead. When Jesus took your penalty of death and died, he then defeated it by rising from the grave. Because of that, death no longer has a hold over those who are sons or daughters of God.


Point 5 says what Romans 10:9 points out: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is that simple. One act of faith is all it takes to be saved—free from the bonds of death.


Conclusion

When the pastor said to Frank, “Have faith Frank, the good Lord has a plan for you.” he may be using the word “faith” in the right way, in that Frank should have faith that, for example, God will provide (Matthew 6:31-32) or, through the tough times, God is molding us for the better (Isaiah 64:8). However, I think it is more likely that what the pastor said is merely a common phrase among Christians—which has lost its meaning. It could be the equivalent of the phrase: “Have hope.” “Have faith” can be a very encouraging phrase if used in the right context. It is a call to action. In the pastor’s case, it could mean to continue living a godly life, that, as Christians, we are not promised a comfortable life, but a life of servitude—dedicated to God; so, even when Frank loses his job, he can be reassured that he did not lose his purpose.

The pastor said to have faith in God’s plan. While that is better than the simple “have faith,” it could be interpreted in many ways to the point that it may cause someone to fall into deceit. God’s plan could be interpreted to be solely in the material world and therefore someone could become confused when this so-called good God is destroying his life. The phrase, “have faith” should be accompanied by an explanation of what one should have faith in and why that is. Or else it would be like sending a soldier out to battle with the instructions: “defeat the enemy.” It is way too vague alone, but accompanied by a specific truth, it now has a specific direction and purpose—which is far more effective than a simple “have faith.”

Bibliography

"CSB Search Results for "hope." Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 23 Aug, 2020,

https://www.blueletterbible.org//search/search.cfm?Criteria=hope&t=CSB#s=s_primary_0_1

The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

[1] "CSB Search Results for "hope," Blue Letter Bible, Accessed 23 Aug, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org//search/search.cfm?Criteria=hope&t=CSB#s=s_primary_0_1 [2] The Apologetics Study Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), p. 1821

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