What do Christians mean by “Faith”?

This week I’ve been trying to get to grips with what the Bible means when it talks about faith. I’ve noticed that we use the word as a bit of a catch-all term, “just have faith” “I admire your faith” “what faith are you?” Somewhere along the line I start to get confused about what we mean by it, and I realise that I’ve become far too comfortable with a word that is meant to shake us from our complacency and lead us to live radically.

As I’ve thought about faith this week, I’ve been encouraged, but also hugely challenged. God has reminded me that faith begins and ends with, through, and in HIM!STEPPING-OUT-IN-FAITH by V Herschberger

Not a Lecture

This blog post isn’t a theological lecture on faith, and it’s certainly not exhaustive! I just want to share some of the rediscoveries I’ve made, in the hope that they will sink more deeply into my heart, and perhaps warm yours too.

I began by looking at how the Bible defines and uses the word ‘faith’. Some of the most common meanings were:
Firm Persuasion, Belief, Trust, and Steadfastness.

In the Old Testament, God himself is the prime example of faithfulness. Israel is commanded to have faith because of his faithfulness. They are to trust him, based on his perfect character and all that he has already done for them.

6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulnessExodus 34:6

Often the Israelites are rebuked for their lack of faithfulness, because they are not steadfast in their faith:

Psalm 78:8…they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Examples of Faith

In the New Testament, Hebrews has a whole chapter that reads like a hall of fame for the faithful – except that when you look closely, many of those mentioned are flawed people who made big mistakes. So why are they commended?

Chapter 11 starts with its own definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And the author goes on to give a plethora of examples:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she
considered him faithful who had made the promise,

It is God’s faithful, promise-keeping character that enables his people to act on their trust in him! Faith enables them to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer their happiness, and wait for the arrival of the promised rescuer, Jesus Christ.

Another thing that struck me as I read this passage, is that God expects his people to trust him, when they don’t know how he will deliver them, or why he has given them certain instructions, or how his promises can possibly come about! They often have little information about the situation at hand, and yet their faith is not foolish or a blind leap in the dark. It rests in the solid, certain, steadfastly faithful character of God.

A Waiting Game

I was also reminded that faith often requires periods of struggle or waiting. Charles Stanley said: “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” And we see this in Hebrews 11:

v.9b-10 [Abraham] lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

v.16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

v.26 [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Genuine faith results in action and change

I want to avoid a super-long blog post, but let me give a brief mention to the book of James, which so clearly shows us that real faith will be evidenced by what we do – just like our Hebrews 11 heroes.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26

Hope for the Little-Faiths

Everything I’ve read about faith shows me how faithless I am most of the time! (Every sin has unbelief at its core because we disobey God when we disbelieve the goodness or wisdom of his commands and promises.)
So I was heartened to also read passages that remind me that just as faith is rooted in a faithful God, it also begins and ends with Jesus Christ:

…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:1-2

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4, 6

Jesus never sinned because his faith in his Father never faltered, and he lives to intercede for us today. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith; and he continues his work in us to strengthen our faith by his Holy Spirit. In our fight for faith and faithfulness we are not alone!

Faith in God enables us to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer happiness, and look forward eagerly to Christ’s glorious return.

Praise God for his faithfulness to an unfaithful people!


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