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What is Faith?



Many years ago, as part of a Graduate Spokesman’s Club assignment, I conducted a survey of baptised Church members to find out what they understood faith to mean. The Church age (years baptized) of those surveyed ranged from 12 to 29, with most of those questioned being towards the higher end of the range.


So, what were the results? They were quite stunning. Only 10% were able to give a convincing explanation of faith – that is, an explanation that had Biblical support. Most gave answers that were very nebulous and gave the impression that faith was some kind of mystery, not really to be understood, just felt. Now, why did so many people not understand this matter? Especially when we are already provided with a definition in,

Heb 11:1

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

More accurate rendering (author)

Now faith is the confidence of things in which we believe, the evidence of things not seen.”


Apart from the Verse translation itself there are several reasons why so many people do not understand the matter of faith, but at this time it is intended to cover only one of the main reasons and it relates to the Bible Translators interchanging different words. They have not been consistent with their translations – there are many instances where the words Trust, Believe, Faith and Hope have been used interchangeably and they are NOT interchangeable. The words are related, but by no means are they interchangeable. They are different words.


There really is not anything mysterious about faith, so long as we use the right word in the right place. Now, lets take a quick look at those four words.

Trust          =    I trust you will be there too.

Believe       =    Trust,  because you have confidence in the individual’s character or ability.

Faith          =    Evidence  +  confidence of repetition

Hope          =    Always associated with salvation – a gift of God’s knowledge.


This is not comprehensive by any means, but it is sufficient to show the difference between the words.



More Detailed Definitions


Trust: Usually based on nothing and is a “if God be willing” situation. (e.g.: “I trust I will see you next week”)

Phil 2:24

“But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly."


Believe: This is when you have some basis for trust you trust, because you have confidence in the individual’s good character or ability.

Mark 9:24

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”


What the man is saying here, "I believe you can do it, but I do not know if you will do it for me or my child." Here we are shown an example of where faith is actually graded. This man probably saw the evidence that Christ could heal through others being healed, but that was not sufficient for him to have personal faith – it was for some, but not for him. It is likely that the man had a problem with self-worth and that was why Christ had pity on him and his child.


Faith:   This is when there is Evidence  +  confidence of repetition. There are different types of faith and different grades, but as mentioned earlier the purpose at this time is simply to draw distinctions between Trust, Believing, Faith and Hope.


Now, what is evidence? According to Butterworth’s dictionary of legal terms it is described as, any fact which can point to the proof of a matter, or any fact which does prove a matter. The prime difference between the way the courts use evidence and the way God uses evidence is the courts use it to prove past events, whereas God uses it to prove the inevitability of future events. For example, a few seconds ago you picked up a cup of coffee; you have no doubt in the world that you can pick it up again, even at will. However, you have no actual proof that you will be able to do so. Is this faith? Absolutely! It is evidence + confidence of repetition (the things not seen because they are in the future).


You see the definition of Faith in Heb 11:1 is good for both secular and religious activities.


Hope: Is always associated with salvation – it is a gift of God’s knowledge.


From God's perspective, faith and reality appear to be one and the same, because He knows  what He has done before He can do again. And this is where Hope comes in. There is no way we can get any evidence about salvation, but every converted person absolutely believes it, even to the point where they would say that they knew it to be true. Accordingly, hope can only be explained as a gift from God – a gift of His own knowledge and is therefore the most powerful and most certain of the four.


Now we can differentiate between these words, we can have a clear understanding of what faith means –  all we have to do is use the right word in the right place, consistently. To put it simply, based on the definition in Heb 11:1 Faith is Evidence + Confidence of Repetition. When God is the source of the evidence He expects to see faith. This was one of the disappointments with ancient Israel in the wilderness even after God repeatedly supplied miracle after miracle, providing for the needs of the people they still doubted Him.





Before addressing this part of the subject, it is most important for us to understand that all the examples of faith by people (not Christ) in the Gospels were examples by unconverted people – people who did not have the Holy Spirit, yet they were still judged (had their sins forgiven and were healed) according to THEIR faith. The holy spirit was not available to the populous during the time of Christ and would not be available until Pentecost 31 AD.

John 16:7

“…‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him [it] to you.’…” [NKJV].


With this fact in mind we can understand why there were different degrees of faith among those people – it is okay  to have different degrees of faith.



Two Types of Faith


There are two distinct types of faith referred to in the Bible and for the sake of simplicity I have called them Religious Faith and Ordinary Faith.



1.   Religious Faith


Religious faith is simply a set of beliefs –  

Jude 1:3

“Dear friends,  although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the Saints.” [NIV].


In this regard, it is our set of beliefs – it is the truth of God. And our strength of faith can be equated to our commitment to that truth, that way of life. Different levels of commitment can be attributed directly to a person’s background. This is not a theory, it is not conjecture, it is not something deduced, it is a Biblical fact and we shall go through some examples straight out of the Bible that will prove that this is irrefutable fact.


The Ancient Israelites had a pretty hard life in Egypt and regardless of what God did for them  (miracle after miracle in Egypt and in the wilderness),  they could not stay committed to His way of life – they continually doubted His commitment to deliver them. Why? Because after generations of slavery they could not even begin to trust God let alone voluntarily abide by His set of rules. To them, God and Moses were the establishment and the only establishment with which they were familiar was very harsh, unfair and definitely not something to be trusted.


From the result, it appears that their degree of faith was fairly close to zero. The result of their lack of trust, belief and faith of this unconverted group of people was failure to reach the land of their rest.



2.   Ordinary Faith


This type of faith relates to any conviction based on fact (evidence), and is in accordance with the definition provided in Heb 11:1,

“…Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”


For the time being we shall just concentrate on the last part of the definition – the part to do with evidence. I call this second type of faith “Ordinary Faith” because the definition is good for both secular and religious situations. There are a couple of good examples here that show this type of faith is actually graded and the indications are that having a different degree of faith to someone else is not wrong. However, we are also given the example that if we are weak in that area, then we should ask for more and it will be given.


Example 1 – The Centurion


In this example it is good that we recite the entire account, found in Luke 7:1-10,

“…1 After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.’ 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’ 9 When Jesus heard this he marvelled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well…” [RSV].


Now, paraphrasing what just happened:  From third-hand evidence, no more than “hearsay” (evidence that would be thrown out of a court of law), this soldier’s faith was supremely strong. There was no indication that he had seen Christ or any miracles, but he was confident that if Christ commanded the healing, then it would be done. Christ gave the command and that hour the servant was healed.


Why was the centurion’s faith so strong? The man himself provides the answer, it was because of his background (Verse 8). This account is about a soldier, a Centurion. It was normal for men of such rank to have had a family history of being military people. So, he was not only accustomed to authority and being under authority himself, this was the environment in which he was raised from a baby. Therefore when the Centurion heard about Christ, he recognised his authority in the area of healing and therefore there could be no possible outcome other than his servant being healed. The healing was a result of the centurion’s faith due to his background, nothing else (i.e. not the Holy Spirit). Since we all have different backgrounds, it is axiomatic that we will all have different levels of faith.



Example 2 – A Man’s Sick Child


This is example with which probably most of us can identify.

The whole of this account is in Mark 9:17-27, but for the purpose of our study the key verses are 24 to 27:

“…24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (weakness of faith) 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, [Thou] dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And [the spirit] cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose…”


What the man is saying is, “I believe you can do it, but I do not know if you will do it for me or my child.” Like most of us he probably thought, “I am  not important enough, I am not worthy enough, God has never done anything like this for me before why should He start now.”



This man probably saw the evidence that Christ could heal, but that was not sufficient for him to have faith – it was for some, but not for him. It is likely that the man had very poor self esteem. However, Christ did have pity on him and his child.


You see the real story here is not about any healing or miracles, it is that we are taken back to the Heb 11:1 definition of faith. Which states that faith is based on evidence. Christ knew that if this man’s faith was to be strengthened, then he had to provide evidence, and that is exactly what he did. The man asked for his faith to be strengthened and Christ did that by providing him with a direct form of evidence.



Drawing Everything Together


At this point it is time to draw everything together and in doing so possibly answer some questions that may not have occurred to you yet. Once again we shall confine ourselves to definitive issues and not wander off on some philosophical tangent.


For the sake of simplicity it was stated that the Bible describes two types of faith. This is also supported by Strong’s Concordance. These two types were described as,

1  A set of beliefs – that is a way of life Ž (from Jude verse 3)

“.....the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”   and

Evidence + confidence of repetition Ž (from the Heb 11:1).

“…Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”


Now this brings us to a couple of questions:

1.  Why is it that a set of beliefs is called faith?   and

2.  What does a set of beliefs have to do with evidence ?


So how do we approach these questions? The answer is fairly simple – we need to do two things simultaneously;

1.  Look for a common element;   and

2.  Focus on God.


Evidence  appears to be the common factor with these two questions, so what does evidence do for us ?


God provides this evidence to point us to Him. It proves that God is the great, Creator, Sustainer, Provider and Healer. He provides this evidence through giving us knowledge and experiences – all of the Biblical examples verify that this is His mode of operation. So far we have seen that type of faith is learnt, it grows, it is not zapped.


That is what we have seen so far.


Now, while God is providing us with this evidence, what are we doing? Well, He has proven to us that He exists and wants us to live a certain way of life Ž His way of life. So, what are we doing? We are,

1  living His way of life;

2  abiding by His laws;  and

3  we are keeping the faith.


Living God’s way of life is called keeping the faith because we are providing God with evidence that we agree with Him and His way. So you see, the Heb 11:1 definition really is consistent and does not change, just as God does not change. And while we are on the subject of that definition,  lets take another look at it.

Heb 11:1

“…Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”


So far we have concentrated on the last part of the definition and seen how faith is based on evidence. Now if we take a look at the first part of the definition we see that hope is based on faith. Which means that hope is also based on evidence, and as we know, evidence consist of cold hard substantial facts. In very simple terms, Evidence Ž Faith Ž Hope. Therefore, Evidence Ž Hope.


Turn now to 1Thessalonians 5:8

“…But let us, who are of the day, be sober,  putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet,  the hope of salvation…”


Hope Ž Always associated with salvation!


What else do we know about Hope?

Romans 8:24

“…For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?...”


Now this appears to fly in the face of the Heb 11:1 definition, which demands that Hope be based on Evidence. However, if we turn to Ephesians 2:8 we see something very interesting,

“…For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God:…”


On the surface there appears to be a mammoth contradiction, but in reality it is a coming together of Scripture to explain a most significant issue – Our Salvation. But how does it all work together? Lets take a closer look. We know that Hope is always associated with salvation, in fact Hope could be described as “The  Conviction  Of  Salvation”.


So, how does Eph 2:8 fit in? Well, in Heb 11:1 we are told, “…Faith is the substance of things hoped for....”. So, even though we are saved by hope  (as stated in ROM 8:24) what Eph 2:8 is doing, is directing us to the mechanics of Hope. That is to say, how Hope  works. It works through  Faith and faith works through evidence. Ephesians 2:8 Is the only place in the Bible where Faith is described as a gift of God. I put the computer to work, using two very powerful Bible programmes and I could find no other reference to faith being given by divine fiat. There is a case, in Romans 12:3-18, of faith being divided up, but this type of gift is put in the same category as normal human abilities.  The gift of faith in Ephesians 2:8 is something absolutely unique. In this one verse we see that Saving Faith is a gift of God.


Now, if we put these verses together we can only come to one conclusion.

Saving Faith = Hope = a gift of God’s knowledge.


Why does it have to be this way? Well, there is no other way God can supply us with the evidence of being resurrected into His Kingdom. Why is it Faith? Because, although God is certain He can do it, it hasn’t happened yet. And this is the gift that God has given to us, His knowledge of the certainty of His plan of salvation. So, far from there being any contradictions in Scripture, there is absolute unity and we can now see that the full and complete picture of Faith  means you are looking at salvation. Anyone can have faith, even strong faith, but saving faith (Hope) comes only as a gift of God.