This is the first part of a 3 part Bible study on the topic of faith. See also:
Faith is a vital subject for Christians and the Bible has a lot to say to us about it. The word ‘faith’ appears only twice in the Old Testament, but 245 times in the New Testament (KJV). It is mentioned by every New Testament writer and appears in every New Testament book with the exception of John’s gospel and his second and third epistles.
For the purpose of this study, we will focus our attention on a passage in the epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38-11:6) which contains the first part of the famous faith chapter. Using this, along with other key references, we will consider some basic questions about faith.
What is Faith?
The dictionary definition of faith can be summarised as ‘a complete trust or confidence in something that cannot be logically proven’. In the Biblical context we are given a similar although broader definition,
‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11:1)
From this we see that faith goes beyond just believing in something or hoping for something. Faith makes the thing believed in, or hoped for, certain. Note the distinction in this verse between hope and faith. Something hoped for is intangible, it may not happen. Faith adds ‘substance’ to that hope, allowing it to be laid hold of. Faith is also ‘the evidence of things not seen’ and an example of this is given a couple of verses later,
‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’ (Hebrews 11:3)
We cannot see God and we cannot (and did not) watch him creating the world. We cannot logically prove creation. However, by faith we can take the Biblical account of creation as the absolute truth of our origins. Faith provides the ‘evidence’ that ‘proves’ what we cannot see.
To help us understand it further, faith can be broken down into two parts, both of which are necessary. Firstly, there is intellectual belief and secondly there is trust. The same passage in Hebrews 11 makes this distinction,
‘But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ (Hebrews 11:6)
Faith is therefore at the very core of Christianity. Simply believing that God exists is important, but alone does not make someone a true Christian. Even the devils believe in the existence of God (James 2:19). Real Christian faith joins belief in God (‘that he is’) with trust (or reliance) that he is able and willing to provide all our need, especially spiritually, (‘a rewarder of them that diligently seek him’). Thus, true faith has an intellectual aspect coupled with an active aspect – belief and trust.
The story of Charles Blondin, a 19th century French acrobat and tightrope walker, provides a helpful illustration of what faith is as distinct from belief. Blondin gained worldwide fame for his crossings of the gorge near the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He did this with various variations including whilst blindfolded, carrying his manager on his back and pushing a wheelbarrow. It is said that one day when a large crowd had gathered to watch him, he asked them if they believed that he could push a man over the gorge in the wheelbarrow. The unanimous response from the crowd was ‘yes’. He then asked for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow to be pushed across the tightrope. There were no takers! The crowd believed that he could safely push someone across in a wheelbarrow, but none of them trusted him to push them across, they would not get into the wheelbarrow. There was belief, but no trust and hence no faith.
In the Christian religion, the comparison is often made between head knowledge and heart knowledge. The difference between these two is faith. True Christianity requires the heart to be involved, responding positively to what we believe in our heads.
Why do we need faith?
In Hebrews 11:6, we can also see that faith is essential for salvation as ‘without faith it is impossible to please him [God]’. Why is this? Very simply, the Bible teaches that faith is the mode of our salvation. In Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes,
‘For by grace are ye saved through faith;..’ (Ephesians 2:8)
Salvation is of grace, it is the work of God, but it is applied to us ‘through faith’. This was one of the main themes of the Reformation (Sola Fide, by faith alone) and it remains a fundamental doctrine for us to understand today.
More specifically, we see from scripture that it is faith that justifies us.
‘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.’ (Romans 5:1-2)
God’s saving grace and justification come to us ‘through faith’. We are not justified because God sees our own faith and rewards us for it, we are justified because the faith that is given to us by God enables us to both believe in and lay hold upon (‘have access’ to) the Lord Jesus Christ, along with the benefits and blessings that come through him. Again, see here the two aspects of true faith, belief and trust.
Where does faith come from?
Gift of God
We have touched on this above. Faith is not something we can generate in and of ourselves. Paul is very clear in his epistle to the Ephesians,
‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Faith is the ‘gift of God’, given to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and the new birth. This is an important point. The work of the Holy Spirit enables a person who was ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1) and at complete enmity with God, to not just believe in God, but also to trust in him and his promises.
There is a second aspect to this however. Writing to the Romans Paul says,
‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (Romans 10:17)
The way God usually uses to brings people to faith is through hearing the preaching of the Word of God. He also then uses the preaching (and indeed the private prayerful reading of the Bible) to further encourage his people, and cause them to grow in grace – maintaining and increasing their faith.
 The key word here is ‘prove’ – creation makes perfect logical sense.