What is Faith?

Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove.

Many people, including some Christians, live with this definition of faith. For some it feels liberating. It means being able to believe in anything you want to believe. No explanation is required, indeed no explanation can be given; it’s just a matter of faith. For others, such a definition is sickening. Embracing faith means you stop thinking. As faith increases, reason and meaning eventually disappear. No explanations can be given, and none can be expected. Living in faith is living in the dark.

For both groups, the problem is the same. By starting with the wrong definition of faith, they have asked the wrong question, are dealing with the wrong problem, and so have ended up with the wrong answer. Faith is not wishful thinking. It is not about believing in things that do not exist. Nor does it make all things believable or meaning impossible.

So what’s the right definition of faith? Hebrews 11:6 says “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is simply defined as knowing that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Perhaps the best word that can be used to translate is the Greek word “pistils” usually translated faith is the word “trust” or “trustworthy.” Would if you told a friend that you have faith in her. What does that mean! It means two things. First, you are sure the person you are talking to actually exists. And second, you are convinced she is trustworthy; you believe what she says and trust her character.

It is the same with Paul the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust God’s promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking. Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who wants to be known to us:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;

besides me there is no God.

I arm you, though you do not know me,

So that they may know, from the rising of the sun

and from the west, that there is no one besides me;

I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-6)

Every sense the church began, the refrain has always been the same: Come, believe, follow the light of the world. It has never appealed for people to leap into the dark; no such invitation is found anywhere in Scripture. Instead, we are called to step into the light. The Christian Gospel is not a message that revels in ignorance. It is the revelation of God in the person of Christ, so that we might know there is no other. The Christian is called to see things as they really are, and not as she would simply like them to be. We trust in a God who has been revealed to us in the Son and the Spirit. We believe because God is real.

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