Faith to be Different (part 1) What is Faith?

Faith is a complex spiritual concept, which does not yield to instant understanding. We can study faith, but faith is also something that Christians must live. God delights in our effort to learn about faith, because through the effort of understanding faith and being faithful, we become more pleasing to God.

We can understand faith with the mind to a certain level, but this is not enough. Faith must go deeper than the mind, and must become a living reality that guides our every action. It must become so strong that we can do nothing but fall at the feet of Jesus in humility and obey God.

I do not claim to fully understand faith. I am learning more about faith every day. I don’t believe any man or woman can fully comprehend the vast meaning of this subject. Of course, Christ Jesus was the author and perfector of faith, and His understanding was complete. Fortunately, we have been given His Word as our manual of faith and we have been given the Holy Spirit as our tutor in faith. Therefore, I urge you to approach the study of faith with a prayerful heart. Please pray that your deeper understanding of faith will lead you into a closer relationship with God. Please pray for patience as you expand your understanding of faith, because faith is one of the deep mysteries of God. I will explain certain aspects of faith to point you in the direction of living your life in faith, but only God can give you the rest of what you need to please Him.

If your heart has not been regenerated by God, then the Holy Spirit does not dwell in you and He will not be available to tutor you in faith. You may find this teaching to be interesting, but do not expect to begin living your life in faith, until God has done His saving deed of regeneration. Your stony heart of sin must be replaced with a flexible heart of flesh, which is capable of yielding to the call of the Spirit. If you are uncertain about your status with God, then keep praying that God would save you from the eternal damnation that is planned for all who do not fear God, love God, and who have not given every part of their lives to God as His obedient servants.

Why is understanding faith so difficult? I will use phenomena from the physical world to answer this question. Let’s begin by considering how we might use words to describe the phenomena of a “sunset” to someone who had never seen a sunset. This is the same type of challenge that is faced when we try to teach a new believer about faith.

In trying to describe a sunset, we could begin by searching for a single word to explain the phenomena. Of course, there is no single word that could adequately describe everything that is involved in a sunset. We could use a collection of words in our definition, which would help, but we would still be far from communicating the meaning and experience of a sunset to someone who is unfamiliar with the phenomena. We could write a phrase or two to describe a sunset, which would move us closer to defining it, but what aspect of a sunset should we describe in our phrase? Should the phrase describe the color phenomena? Should it describe the astronomy of a sunset? Should it describe the effect upon the heart of a person who watches a sunset? Should it describe poetry and artwork that has been created over thousands of years to express the beauty of a sunset? If we really wanted to describe and define a sunset, then we would need to do all these things and much more. Only then would a person who had not seen or experienced a sunset begin to comprehend some of the glory that God reveals every time the sun slips below the horizon at the end of the day.

The task of describing faith is an even more complex undertaking than the challenge of describing and explaining a sunset. Whenever a person attempts to teach about faith or other biblical concepts such as love, sin, repentance, forgiveness, sanctification, holiness, or grace, we must build up an understanding of the concepts step by step. Time, effort, prayer, scriptures, and the Holy Spirit of God will all need to be involved in such an undertaking, because we are studying the nature of God.

I will begin with some basic definitions of faith, and then add layers of additional meaning based on scripture to systematically build up a greater picture of faith. We will eventually look at the characteristics of faith, the fruit of faith, and the consequences of faith. Please remember that every point that is introduced will only speak to a certain aspect of faith. In the beginning it may seem like faith is rather dry and lifeless, but as this narrative continues, faith will take on warmth, color, and texture. Faith will slowly move from the realm of an abstract concept to something that is dynamic and powerful. It will move from something that a Christian theoretically possesses, to a way of life that reveals evidence of a transformed heart and mind. This evidence is much more than having certain thoughts or feelings. The evidence of faith is seen in our behavior, choices, and willingness to do anything that God asks of us.

One of the first things we must do to understand faith is to realize that there is a subjective aspect and an objective aspect to this word. Spiros Zodhiates, the editor of The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, (electronic edition), uses an interesting word to describe the activity of the word faith as it is used in the New Testament. He uses the word “articular” to describe the functioning of the word faith. Articular does not describe the meaning of faith, it describes how the meaning of the word faith moves back and forth like the joint of a finger. Sometimes the word faith points in one direction and at other times the meaning points in a different direction. As will be explained, sometimes it has an objective meaning and at other times it has a subjective meaning. In trying to understand the word faith, we will quickly get into difficulty if we demand that faith stand still and play dead so that we can examine it. This word simply doesn’t work that way. Faith is a living reality of God and is filled with life and movement.

The objective meaning of faith is easier to understand, and I will begin with it. Objectively speaking, faith can refer to a set of beliefs and doctrines, or to the possession of beliefs and doctrines. When we say something such as, “We are people of the Christian faith,” then we are using faith in its objective sense. We could also say, “The Bible is a book of faith.” In other words, the Bible is a statement of faith, and the life of Jesus was the perfection of faith for us. Consider the objective aspect of faith as used in the following scripture.

1 Timothy 5 (NASB95)
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

In addition to the objective aspect of faith, there is a subjective meaning. When thinking of the subjective meaning of faith we need to rid ourselves of the idea that faith is like a physical substance. If we are in need of more faith, we should not think that it is something that will be delivered to us by the gallon or pound. Faith in the subjective sense is not an object received, but a process that is lived. It is a sign of something important, which is observed through the quality and character of our lives. It can be seen in the activity of our minds, hearts, and actions, but it cannot be placed into a physical container and measured.

In the most general terms, a person who has faith has been won over to a certain viewpoint or worldview. Subjectively, he or she has been persuaded to believe in something. With respect to Jesus and our lives as Christians, our persuasion is firm and we have a confident belief in an eternal truth. Christians will have a non-swerving commitment to the truth of Jesus, and this truth will become a transforming reality in our lives. Faith is much more than mental assent to the existence of God, to the divinity of Jesus, or to the Gospel message. Subjectively, faith is a reality that defines our lives and shapes our character.

The problem that we face when we read scripture is to determine whether the use of the word faith is pointing toward its objective or subjective meaning. Simply going to the Greek word to examine its meaning does not solve our problem, because the Greek word pístis (G4102) is used to convey both the objective and the subjective meaning. As a result, we must look at the context of scripture whenever we see the word faith. Quite often, the word faith possesses both the objective and the subjective meaning, which can make the situation even more complex. Sometimes the meaning will seem to bend more toward the objective sense based on context, while at other times the meaning will bend more toward the subjective meaning. In some cases we can’t tell from the context, and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to enrich our understanding of the word faith when we read it. Consider these examples.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

This type of faith refers more to the objective aspect of faith, which rests on an understanding of scripture.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

The first use of faith describes the subjective and personal faith that was seen in the actions of Abel. The second use of the word describes the record of faith as it has been handed down to us in scripture.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.

This verse tells us that subjective faith is necessary for walking with God. We see that God measures our faith and is pleased when we walk with Him in faith.

Hebrews 12 (NASB95)
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

In this verse, the use of the word faith perfectly captures both the objective aspect of faith as it exists in scripture, as well as the subjective aspect of living a faithful life.

The meaning of faith (pístis G4102) is closely linked to belief (pisteúsō G4100) and to being faithful (pistós G4103). Bible translators may at times use words such as faith, faithful, faithfulness, and belief to describe the faith relationship that a person has with God. Faith relationships with God are expressed through commitment, submission, and obedience. People who have faith will believe God and will faithfully obey God. People who believe God and follow His commandments have faith, and will be willing to submit to Him as Lord. To believe, means to have faith in God, to believe what God says, and to trust what we have heard from God. To believe God and what He has stated in scripture is faith. Because of the close relationship between the words faith, believe, and faithful, I want us to take a look at 1 Timothy 4:12.

1 Timothy 4 (NASB95)
12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

The Greek word that is used for “believe in this verse is pistós (G4103), which actually has the definition of “being faithful.” It is common to find this word translated as believe, which sounds like an activity of the mind, while the real meaning is something more like faithfulness. Being faithful implies behavior and is connected to the activity of the will. It is a commitment to follow Christ Jesus. When Bible translations use “believe” instead of “faithful,” they remove the exhortation to action, and scripture can seem to encourage passivity. For this reason, I recommend looking up the Strong’s number when you see the word “believe” during your Bible reading to be sure you have the correct emphasis.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

In this situation, we see that faith is needed to please God, and faith goes hand in hand with belief in the fact that God exists and God rewards those who seek Him. This use of faith seems to suggest both the objective and subjective meaning. The use of believe is correctly translated from pisteúsō G4100).

Faith can be measured by the degree to which people believe what God has said in the Bible. Those who believe the entire Bible and do not feel like they must go beyond the scriptures to answer questions that are not answered in the Bible have great faith. Those who disregard unpopular passages of text, ignore inconvenient verses, or exclude entire books because they think the books belong to some other dispensation, are living their lives with less faith. Thus, faith expresses itself in the acceptance of biblical inerrancy and sufficiency.

Faith also expresses itself in actions. Those who have faith will be willing to do what God says. This means to follow all of the commandments of Jesus. The number of commandments that we are willing to follow reveals the level of our faith. For example, you can read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and consider how many points you are willing to follow without making excuses about why these points don’t really apply to you today. This will help you examine your faith. Similarly, 1 Timothy, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Romans 12 will yield fruit of equal value when you compare your behavior to biblical expectations.

Faith can also be measured by the ways that we cling to sinful behavior. Those who are willing to repent for their sinful ways and are willing to ask God to give them the power to overcome sin can be said to have more faith than those who resist repentance for their sins. God intends for faith to be expressed in every aspect of a Christian’s life. He expects us to live according to the standards of the Bible and to reject the standards of the world.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

God made many promises to Abraham, and Abraham believed God, and because of His faithfulness he was willing to go wherever God led him. This kind of faith looked forward to the future and enabled him to leave the familiar comforts of his native land. Faith is forward looking and Jesus centered.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, (electronic edition), Edited by Spiros Zodhiates, provides an extensive list of antonyms for the word faith (G4102). I will use these words to expand our understanding of faith by formulating a series of positive phrases in response to these words of opposite meaning. The Greek word and its actual meaning will be presented first, and then we will look at what faith does for us.

  • Súgchusis (G4799), confusion: Faith brings clarity into our lives.
  • Parakoḗ (G3876), disobedience: Faith gives us the ability to submit and obey God.
  • Parábasis (G3847), violation: Faith keeps us from violating God’s commandments.
  • Apistía (G570), unbelief, faithlessness: Faith begins with belief and supplants unbelief.
  • Asébeia (G763), ungodliness, lack of piety: Faith gives us the desire to live holy lives.
  • Apostasía (G646), apostasy, departure from the truth: Faith causes us to search for God’s truth.
  • Aíresis (G139), heresy, discord in doctrine: Faith enables Christians to agree upon doctrine and to build unity through the activity of the Holy Spirit.
  • Blasphēmía (G988), blasphemy, vilification against God: Faith causes us to fear God, to see God as sovereign and holy, and to expel false teachers from the assembly.
  • Hupókrisis (G5272), acting, hypocrisy: Faith causes us to despise falsehood in any form, and to look for hidden lies and deception.
  • Pseúdos (G5579), falsehood: Faith causes us to cling to the truth and to confront those who believe lies.
  • Dólos (G1388), guile, deceit: Faith gives us the ability to love and pray for those who deceive and persecute us, and who dishonor God.

Whether we realize it or not, faith is at the center of every true Christian’s life. The objective aspect of faith cannot be separated from the comprehension of scripture and doctrine. The subjective aspect of faith cannot be separated from Godly living, which should follow the nature of our high priest of faith, Christ Jesus. As a practical matter, objective faith and subjective faith really cannot be isolated from one another. It is through faith that we have the ability to follow Jesus and to give our lives in service to Him. If there is minimal faith, then there will be minimal following. If we are not following Jesus then we are not living a life of faith. None of us follow Jesus perfectly, and every one of us has weak areas in our faith. We should not be passively accepting of our weak faith. We should use the knowledge of our weaknesses to begin praying for more faith.

If we pray to follow Jesus more completely, then we are actually praying for more faith. In the same way, if we pray for more faith, then we are actually praying for more power and ability to follow Jesus.

Prayers for more faith should target the areas where we are weak in faithfulness. Please take a few moments to consider your own weak areas of faith and ask God to tell you how your faithfulness could be strengthened.

Our faith will sprout and begin to grow when we ask God for greater understanding of scripture and doctrine. Our faith will grow deep roots when we ask for the strengthening of our capacity to believe all of the commandments of Jesus. Our faith will become a strong stalk at the center of our life when we ask for increased willingness to conform our lives to all aspects of God’s holy nature. Faith will cause shining leaves to burst out from thousands of dormant buds when we call out for stronger perseverance and patience during times of trials and testing. Faith will form a fragrant ring of flowers around our heart when we fall to our knees and humbly seek the gift of passion and power to preach the Gospel with authority. Every true Christian has some amount of faith, and every Christian should be praying for more faith on a regular basis.

A prayer for faith is not a prayer for a bigger bucket to hold more faith, rather it is a prayer for a greater level of brokenness and a stronger commitment to serve God. Some may not want to pray in this way. If you are among those who don’t want to be broken by God, then I must question whether you are really a Christian. This is a warning! If you like your life just the way it is and will not ask God to break you to the point where you become willing to do what He might require of you, then you may have a false conversion and may still be living under Satan’s control.

Now, faith will not be without fruit. The fruit of faith will be seen in our lifestyles, our rejection of sin, our willingness to give our lives to Jesus, and in God’s willingness to use us. When God uses us, He will cause us to have a crisis of faith. This means that He will give us assignments that we cannot complete in our own power. His assignments will cause us to humbly turn our hearts to Him and to trust Him more completely. Our faith will be put to the test and will be found deficient. His assignments will cause us to see our own weaknesses and to cry out for more faith. We will be asked to give up more of our selfishness and to become more Christ-like each time God wants us to grow in faith. We are conformed to God’s nature by faith.

No one masters faith — we are mastered by faith. Jesus is the master of faith. His life is the perfection of faith and the model of faith. The cross was the ultimate proving ground of faith for Jesus, and His resurrection was the fruit of faith in the New Covenant that the Father God established through His only begotten Son. The death of selfishness and the death of self-empowered sinful behavior that people experience at the foot of the cross is the beginning of faith for every Christian. It is our birth into a new life, and this new life becomes the proving ground for our faith.

I would like us to look at Hebrews 11:1 to begin expanding upon the role of faith in the life of a Christian. I have selected two different translations, because together they provide a richer meaning.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11 (KJB)
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The word translated “substance” or “assurance” in Hebrews 11:1 is the Greek word hupostáseōs (5287). Hupostáseōs is something that is under us and supports us. It is something that we stand upon. Faith gives us confidence. Because of the faith that supports us, we have certainty. This certainty of faith is described as hope. Hope is not general in nature, but is an expectant desire that we will be with Jesus one day. This specific expectation is not based on signs and wonders that we have seen, but is based on the fact of a deed done by Christ Jesus. Our faith is not based on imagination, but is rooted in the truth of scripture. Scripture teaches us about faith and the Holy Spirit teaches us to live by faith.

Please consider how the lives of the following men and women that are mentioned in Chapter 11 of Hebrews were able to live by faith and how their lives can encourage us to live by faith today. These are all people who lived prior to the life of Jesus on Earth. They lived by faith and had faith in God’s promises.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

By faith Abel initiated worship of God. Today, faith enables us to go beyond passive participation in religious performances and to truly worship God.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.

By faith Enoch walked with God for three hundred years. Today, we walk with God through faith, and we become pleasing to God by means of our faith.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

By faith Noah worked for many years in reverent respect for God. Today our faith enables us to work to keep spreading the Gospel even if there isn’t an immediate victory and we don’t know when the end will come.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith, Abraham started walking without knowing where he was going. Today we are still called to obey through faith and to follow God even if He doesn’t describe the destination, give us a map, or indicate the mode of transportation.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

By faith, Abraham and Sarah produced a child when their age should have made this impossible. Today our faith should give us an expectation to see miracles even though our natural minds declare certain things to be impossible.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

By faith, Abraham was tested and was found willing to sacrifice his only son. Today, God may test our faith by asking us to give up the gifts that He has given us, without our questioning His wisdom.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.

Today, by faith, we can look forward to our death and the experience of being rooted in faith as our life in this world fades away with the death of our physical body.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.

By faith Joseph, reminded his family of their history and caused them to look forward to the future land of promise. Today, through faith we depend upon the promise of a resurrected body and a new heaven and a new Earth.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

By faith, the parents of Moses did not fear the king’s order that baby boys be killed at birth. Today, through faith, we are not to fear earthly rulers and their commandments to refrain from preaching the Gospel, worshipping God, praying or studying the Bible.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

By faith Moses chose fellowship and mistreatment rather than the pleasures of sin in Pharaoh’s palace. Today, through faith, we are to place our lot with our true Christian brothers and sisters, and to be willing to accept whatever harsh treatment may result, knowing all the while that God is with us and will not forsake us.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

By faith Moses did not fear the anger of man. Through faith, we can learn to boldly trust God to deliver us from oppression.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.

Today, by faith, we must learn to pray for God’s protection of our brothers and sisters in Christ and believe that God will keep us close to His heart.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

By faith, the Hebrew people saw the waters part before them and then saw the same waters drown the Egyptians. Today, through faith, we may flee persecution in order to continue preaching the Gospel, while trusting that God will deal with our enemies.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.

Today, through faith, we can believe that God will fight our battles and we need not try to tear down the strongholds of Satan through our own human strength.

Hebrews 11 (NASB95)
32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

By faith, judges, kings, and prophets honored God by faithfully obeying Him. Today, through faith, we will be called to serve God even though we still sin.

In summary, the word faith pulls together the lives and teachings of all the people in Chapter 11 of Hebrews, and stands as a mighty call for us to live as they lived, and yes, to sometimes die as they died. Faith has been the center point in the lives of millions of Christian men and women through the ages, and many have died, because they would not and could not disregard their faith. They experienced the power of faith and could not deny the call to humbly submit to Jesus as the one and only Lord no matter what the circumstances or the consequences. They chose to imitate the lives of other faithful men and women who lived before them, and to imitate Jesus. Whether it was faith based in Old Testament promises, or faith based on the finished work of Jesus, faith is unchanging just as Jesus remains the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13 (NASB95)
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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