Please open a Bible to Hebrews 11:1 where it is written: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I would like for us to consider the nature of faith: the substance. It is important for those of us who would please God to understand faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). I intend to define faith, express its nature and how it is obtained, and exhort us both to increase in it.
An Opinion … Or Two
Before we get started, I would like to share my motivation to explore this subject. I think very few people have faith. I think faith in Christ is a very rare thing among people who claim to know Christ as personal Savior. I fear most people who go to church on Sundays will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire because they do not have faith in Jesus Christ. I think that many people are vaguely aware of this and do not care enough to do anything about it. I state all of these thoughts entirely without proof, of course; they are merely opinions. Perhaps, before we are through here, you will share my concern.
In support of this admittedly uncommon opinion, I think it wise to share the opinion of another on this subject. Consider the following quote from Martin Luther’s An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, translated by Robert E. Smith in 1994 from Dr. Martin Luther’s Vermischte Deutsche Schriften (Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63 [Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854], pp.124-125), bold emphasis mine.
“Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. ‘Faith is not enough,’ they say. ‘You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.’ They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, ‘I believe.’ That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this faith either. Instead, faith is God’s work in us that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words. Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.”
Such is the sober warning of an old, trusted friend, one who certainly knew much of false religion. In his day, as well as in ours, there are many professors of religion that would comfort us in doubt. We do well to heed his reproofs and address his concerns. Perhaps, before we are done, we shall see much of these opinions, both his and mine, validated in a careful search of the Scripture.
A Working Definition
What then is faith? Those who would mix faith and doubt, and treat them as two sides of the same coin, have difficulty here. How do you define faith if you will not distinguish it from doubt? I have not yet seen a concise definition that works for them. However, Webster defines faith as, “unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence; complete trust, confidence, or reliance.” This definition sets faith and doubt entirely apart, and shows them to be mutually exclusive. I will show that this definition is equivalent to what the Bible says about faith: faith is neither more nor less than what our dictionary has defined it to be.
This definition implies that faith has an object, either a person or an idea or a truth that is trusted, confided in, or relied upon. One may have faith — complete trust — in one person or idea, and not in another. I will refrain from the terms “biblical faith” and “true faith” since these are redundancies. All faith is biblical faith: there is only one kind of faith and the Bible describes it well.
I also accept the following as evident: one is either doubting the object in question, or one is not; there is no gray area here. I seek to show that if one is doubting an object then one has NO faith in that object, not weak faith. Doubt and faith are not warm bedfellows: if doubt is present then faith is not.
Contrary to the above definition of faith and its sobering implications, it is commonly understood that faith and doubt are on a continuum of trust and that at any place along the continuum we have a mixture of faith and doubt: the less doubt the stronger the faith, the more doubt, the weaker the faith. Those promoting this view see faith and doubt working together in every aspect of existence, not being mutually exclusive but in fact inseparable. Consider the bestselling book Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2008), in which the author claims: “the very nature of faith requires the presence of uncertainty.” As an example, the author relates the testimony of Billy Graham who, toward the end of his life, was openly unsure of his eternal destiny, expressing doubt concerning whether Jesus Christ would receive him into Heaven. (p. 24) Neither Mr. Graham nor Mr. Ortberg appear to have any real concern with living in such doubt. Both men evidently accept doubt as inevitable and do not try to eliminate it; they are content to live with doubt about anything and everything, even eternal life. Ortberg summarizes his entire perspective by noting that the most important word in the phrase faith and doubt may very well be the word in the middle.
As noted earlier, it is no coincidence that Ortberg never attempts to actually define faith. How could he? If he cannot tell faith apart from doubt, and thinks that doubt is always implied in any measure of faith, then how can he distinguish them? Evidently, though presuming faith exists, he has never experienced anything but doubt: in formally separating the two he might in fact condemn himself. Rather than facing such an unpleasantry honestly, perhaps he is choosing to live, as Luther would put it, in a human dream.
In the context of eternal life then, where faith is most critical, such teaching tries to comfort the doubting heart instead of alarming it to the danger of unbelief. Rather than dealing honestly with the peril implied by such doubt, it appears that Ortberg and others would rather try to blur the definition of faith. The only possible motive for doing this that I can see is ignorance. Those who have never experienced faith may conclude that it is not possible to have it. But this does not deal honestly with the Bible, or with the common meanings of words. Let us consider then both the definition we have, and the teachings of the Bible which support it.
The Completeness of Faith
First, we find that faith is complete by definition. This is perhaps the most important aspect of faith. Faith is complete trust, complete confidence, complete reliance. Faith is, by definition, the complete absence of doubt. Since one cannot have less doubt than no doubt, faith can only grow or become weak with respect to the number of truths believed, not in response to a single truth. Faith is always “nothing wavering.” (James 1:6) ” If ye have faith, and doubt not.” (Matt 21:21) “…shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe.” (Mark 11:23) When there is any particle of doubt or unbelief in an object, faith is completely absent concerning that object. It must be clearly shown that the definition of faith is consistent with its use in Scripture, for it is a critical aspect of faith that very few people understand and accept.
The completeness of faith can be explicitly derived from the wording of Romans 14:23: “But he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” God says that if one is in doubt about whether it is acceptable to God to eat a particular item, and eats it anyway with this measure of doubt, then he is not eating in faith and stands condemned before God with respect to that activity. The statement only holds if the presence of doubt completely excludes faith; if one can be doubting and have faith at the same time about the same thing then the passage cannot be true as it stands. Simplified, the implication is: “That which is done with doubt is done without faith.” God states that if someone is eating something in doubt as to whether this is permissible, then they are not doing it in faith. Essentially, the statement implies that faith and doubt are mutually exclusive of each other. We must reject the truth of the text or accept the oppositeness of faith and doubt.
In this passage then, when looking at it from the perspective of helping us to understand the definition of faith, God does not delineate the amount of doubt, or the strength of the doubt, which must be present in order to exclude faith. This implies that any doubt at all is classified as unbelief. The presence of any minute trace of doubt with respect to some object of trust or belief or activity directly implies the absence of faith with respect to that object. Faith in a specific object (the idea or truth) cannot therefore be treated as a value on a continuum, such as big or little. Instead, faith must be treated as a discrete value: on or off, yes or no: faith and belief being one state and doubt and unbelief the other.
Now, as a bit of clarification in more fully considering the entire context, let us not think God is saying that in every single activity of life we must know with absolute certainty that it is God’s will and exactly what we are supposed to do every step of the way. This would be an entirely wrong application of this text, contradicting both the general witness of scripture and common sense. We all live with doubt as a manner of life, doubts about God’s will in our daily lives and circumstances, about the future, and about God’s dealings with others. Paul clearly expresses doubts about God’s purposes in particular circumstances (Phil 2:23) and at times attempted to do things that were not God’s will. (Acts 16:7, Rom 1:13) However, he never indicated that it was sinful to live this way.
The context of this passage is whether it is permissible to eat meat or not. (vs 2) Many of the saints who were being addressed in Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians were concerned that all of the meat available to them to eat might have been involved in an idolatrous ritual and they therefore considered all such meat unfit to eat. Other saints in Rome who understood that meat could not be rendered unfit to eat by any kind of mere ritual could eat meat with a clean conscience regardless of what kinds of rituals had been involved in its preparation. However, the weaker saints actually felt that they might be sinning in doing so. In this context, when there is enough doubt about whether a particular activity may be sinful that it becomes a problem of conscience, then abstinence from such activity is the rule. We are not to engage in practices where we have a significant moral concern. However, this does not imply that we must abstain from every single activity unless we have faith that it is God’s will. This would immobilize most all of us, perhaps everyone but Christ Himself.
Conditions for Answered Prayer
Another biblical evidence of the nature of faith is found in the conditions for answered prayer. James 1:6-8 states, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” This text plainly declares that a condition for an assurance of answered prayer is that there be absolutely no wavering when the prayer is made: “nothing wavering.” This nothing wavering is stated as an equivalence to faith. If there is any wavering at all, there is to be no certain expectation that prayer will be answered. If there is no wavering, then the request is made in faith and a positive response is assured.
A companion text is found in Matthew 21:21-22: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” If anything is asked believing it is certainly received; if there is any doubting the request may not be granted. Believing therefore implies the complete absence of doubting. Mark 11:23 indicates the same thing: “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”
The phrase, “If ye have faith, and doubt not …” implies that faith and not doubting are equivalent. Faith and belief and nothing wavering are one and the same condition for an assurance of answered prayer, doubting and unbelief are also disqualification for the same. As clearly as one cannot be believing and disbelieving the same truth simultaneously, so one cannot have faith mixed with doubt with respect to the same truth or idea at the same time.
The Intrinsic Nature of the Damned
Consider soberly two of the key attributes of those who are eternally damned. “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8) The first two qualities mentioned that are common in the damned are fear and unbelief. What does this imply?
If we will not divorce faith from doubt, and separate belief from unbelief, if we persist in saying that doubt and unbelief must be a part of every aspect of every life, that it is not possible to have assurance and joy when we ponder our eternal state, then what do we do with such a text? When one does not have faith in Christ unto salvation and eternal life, when one is not blessed with assurance that Jesus belongs to them, when they cannot say with the Apostle, “there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,” (2 Tim 4:8), then what is left is either fear or presumptuous and prideful lying to one’s self. There is a very real sin in clinging to unbelief, in a contented persisting in fear when God has promised us forgiveness in His Son. Calling God a liar, either in our words or in our emotions and reactions, is not in any way a righteous thing. Being willing to live as if God is a liar, as if He is unfaithful, as if He cannot be trusted … being content to live this way, this is presumption of the highest order.
It is one thing to be in fear and unbelief and to be desperately seeking faith from God, to be confessing this as a sin from which we would be delivered, and asking God day and night for the gift of faith in His Son. This is the state of many an earnest soul, and these have no fear of finally ending up in the lake of fire. God will hear the earnest prayer for faith, either in this life or the next. God will not turn away anyone who is seeking Him.
It is quite another thing to be content to live with unbelief in this life, to be willing to continue day after day as if certain knowledge of salvation is impossible, preaching in both word and deed that God is of such a nature as to require uncertainty about eternal safety from those for whom He was willing to die … No. Do not be deceived. Such lazy continuance in unbelief is willful and purposeful. If we are not seeking faith unto salvation in this life, nothing about the dying process will change this about us in the next. When willful unbelievers are exposed to more light they do not then become believers, they simply continue to reject the light even more vehemently. The fearful and unbelieving who are cast into the lake of fire, they are surrounded by the light and testimony and faithfulness and truth of God … and they remain in unbelief and fear. They are not victims: they are deliberate, stubborn, rebellious sinners. No one goes to Hell sincerely. (SeeHow Long Shall I Suffer?)
No doubt (pun intended:), if you are accustomed to thinking critically, you are considering scriptures such as, “O ye of little faith … increase our faith,” and “faith as a grain of mustard seed.” Such Scriptures appear to relate a concept of weakness in faith or growing in faith, showing that faith need not be as complete as I have stated.
However, faith may grow with respect to the number and complexity of truths believed, rather than in the quality of the faith itself. It is not necessary to conclude that “growing in faith” implies a convenient mixture of faith and doubt with respect to the same object of trust. If faith is the absence of doubt about something then strong faith is the absence of doubt about many things. It is in this light that we properly relate texts that describe little faith and growing faith. One of these passages, Matthew 17:14-20, tells of the disciples’ failure in Christian service due to unbelief. Listen carefully to the words of the Lord Jesus in light of our definition.
“And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
Note the contrast between unbelief and faith. The disciples were acting in unbelief and experienced failure and frustration in their work. Jesus complained that they were “faithless” with respect to their task. Had they been acting in faith there would have been healing.
Note also here, that “faith as a grain of mustard seed” is not weak faith — it moves mountains.
When we consider the completeness of a grain of mustard seed, not half a grain but a whole seed, we see the pattern of a tree that needs only to be fed and watered. So it is with faith. It is complete in essence. Faith may seem a weak instrument to a world built around the strength of the flesh, trust in armaments, and the power of prestige, politics and money. Faith may be comparable to a mustard seed in the eyes of the world, as it appears to be a very weak means. But being complete, faith taps the strength and might of the almighty and eternal God. What makes faith strong is its object.
This same event, the healing of the demon possessed child, is found again in Mark 9:14-29 with additional truth. The father of the troubled child has already suffered through the faithless-ness of the disciples and professes open unbelief in the desire and/or power of Jesus to help him by saying, “If thou canst do anything, have mercy on us and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:22-23)
One might say that the man was both believing and disbelieving at the same time. Certainly he was. Was the belief and the unbelief directed, or in connection with the same object or idea? This need not be the case. If so, we have a contradiction of the definition of faith and a counterexample to my thesis. We must then ask, “What does I believe and my unbelief mean?” If words are to have meaning, we must accept their use in context according to their definition when we can. When we cannot, we must consider our definition to be incomplete. Is that so here?
It is reasonable to conclude from the narrative that this man doubted something, and that there was something he did not doubt, and that the objects of belief and doubt were different: we maintain our definition and do no violence to the text. We are not told what these respective things were, only that Christ healed the boy when He “saw that the people came running together.”(vs. 25) We are never told that the healing was dependent on the belief of the father; or that it was being prevented by his unbelief. Jesus was in a position to do as He pleased in spite of any unbelief in the father. It is quite possible that the healing was in response to the reaction of the crowd as they ran toward the scene in anticipation of a miracle. Whatever the case, we certainly have no conclusive evidence that a man can be believing and doubting the same thing at the same time. Perhaps the father believed that Jesus had power to do some type of miracle but doubted whether Jesus was strong enough to meet his particular needs. Perhaps he doubted Christ’s willingness to help him, rather than Christ’s ability.
As an aside, do you feel this way at times … that He is unwilling? I, personally, never doubt that He is able… but I often struggle with assurance of His will. Thanks be to God, He is not limited by our lack of faith.
There are many texts which we could consider at this point which relate to weak or little faith. I have found all of them to be consistently understood in accordance with the definition I have presented. It is more consistent in each of these passages to measure the strength of the faith by the types and quantity of truths received, not in the essential nature of faith itself.
The Faith of Abraham
One further example is the faith of Abraham, mentioned throughout the New Testament. Abraham experienced salvation when he became fully (not partly or mostly) persuaded in God’s ability and willingness to do as He said: “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6). When God recounts this for us in the New Testament He says: “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:21-2) When Abraham saw the coming of Christ through God’s promise, he believed, he was fully persuaded, and so he rejoiced in it … as Christ Himself said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56)
Abraham’s faith is used as an example of an exceptionally strong faith in that he, believing that God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb 11:17-19), prepared to offer Isaac up as a burnt sacrifice. While it is one thing to pray for the resurrection of a child who has just died of cancer or pneumonia, it is quite another to look into the mists of smoldering ash, matted and scattered upon a pile of blood spattered rocks and dirt … and expect a resurrection: this is remarkable indeed! Though Abraham’s faith was spectacular, it is not rare among the saints. Those who are “of the faith of Abraham,” are all the saved (Romans 4:16); he is the “father of us all.”
To reject the definition of faith as it stands in our dictionary, and to accept the common notion of faith as a continuum, is to generate profound difficulty with these examples from God’s Word, as well as with concepts in Romans 14:23 and James 1:6, with texts which relate conditions for salvation and answered prayer, and with other like passages which picture faith and doubt as mutually exclusive. Faith and doubt are not two sides of the same coin, mirroring the same state. Faith, by definition, is complete: it is the absence of doubt — it is believing!
Given the definition of faith, what are some benefits or results that faith produces in one’s life?
The Fruit of Faith
Perhaps the most happy state that results from faith is salvation itself. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Rom 5:1) “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”(Rom 4:3) “To him . . . that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”(Rom 4:5) “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.”(Rom 3:25) Faith in the person and atoning work of Christ is the sole condition for salvation, and it must be complete: “If thou believest with all thine heart.” (Acts 8:27) This is consistent with our definition and thesis, and shows faith to be of utmost importance.
Any condition needful for salvation, such as repentance, sincerity or knowledge, is either contained in faith or necessarily precedes belief in Christ as God brings justification to the soul. “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” (John 3:18) Clearly, the presence of faith or belief in Christ implies salvation; if faith has never been present in the soul then condemnation is implied.
If faith is the one and only link to salvation, then a lack of correct understanding concerning the definition and nature of faith is most obviously perilous. What better way for Satan to deceive a soul into the bowels of Hell than to falsely convince it of Heaven? Is not this the way the devil works? Many think they are going to heaven because they have repented of sin and have determined to follow Christ — this is the lie of works. Many others think they are bound for heaven because they have repented of their sins and have sincerely asked Christ to come in to their hearts and save them … regardless of their actual faith in Christ at the time they asked or at present. This is the great evangelical lie: a redefinition of unbelief as faith and a redefinition of praying as receiving.
Many who fancy themselves Christians are simply tripping at Hell’s door without faith unto salvation, and are being told, “Ignore your feelings, just claim salvation … even though you are always doubting your eternal safety.” This is what the lazy, irrational soul wants to hear. Yet, in this state, with only the mechanical acts of invitation and dedication to cling to, when the vastness of the loss of eternal salvation is even momentarily considered by any rational soul, this kind of thinking will be shunned and complete assurance will be sought until it is found. Feelings of anxiety, fear and uncertainty about eternal life are a proof of the absence of faith, not an indication of “weak faith.” Ignoring these feelings is eternally perilous. Even so, it seems very few people have considered this fact. Most “Christians” have grown accustomed to doubts about salvation as a natural part of their “Christianity” and are content to remain in this state. This is absurd.
How does one deal with doubt around them and within them when they are confronted with it? While we are commanded to give the gospel to others and to remind ourselves of it often, do not ever make the mistake of assuring anyone of salvation while they are continuing in doubt, not even yourself. If one does not have assurance of salvation then they doubt their salvation and they stand in unbelief before God. In this state one needs for God to restore their faith, or to give it to them initially if they have never known and experienced faith. The appropriate response in doubt is not consolation, but an earnest prayer for faith and a focusing on the Person and atoning work of Christ. If one has never really believed and therefore doubts as a manner of life, salvation is what is needed, most certainly not consolation.
Why is consolation with respect to salvation in times of doubt a very dangerous thing? It is because the very worst thing that you can ever do to another human being in this life is to try and assure them of a salvation that they do not have. You can stoop no lower than this. You lull them to sleep when their hearts cry out in alarm, anxious of their eternal state. If you had any inkling of the fiery fate of the unbeliever, you would tremble with them, not shrug it off. ” Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2Co 5:11) Do not ignore doubt; it is the indication of an absence of faith and must be dealt with soberly.
At this point it is natural to explore another aspect of faith. In addition to the fact that the presence faith implies the absence of doubt, and that faith in Christ implies salvation, we also know this: faith in God and in His Word must be supernaturally induced. “Faith… is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8) Those who experience faith immediately realize that they did not and could not produce it on their own, and this is very humbling.
Faith is not something we can conjure up in our minds or talk ourselves into. Faith is remarkable; it brings a profound and unshakable confidence in the face of danger and deception. It is so full and vibrant that, in and of itself, it becomes an evidence of the truth and veracity of what is believed. This does not make a person proud, arrogant and independent but humble, thankful and deeply dependent on the Giver of faith.
The absolute certainty, the relentless confidence, the calm boldness in the absence of tangible evidence and physical proofs … certainty in the face of persecution, suffering and death … unshakable assurance and confidence that does not need evidence … this is the work of God. It is not presumption. A saint comes to rest perfectly and utterly and completely in Someone he has never seen, and to accept promises of things beyond his temporal experience. The typical saint knows and loves a God he has never physically met and that is never perceived with the physical senses. This is not something a human being can create or fabricate, it is a miracle of God, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is inescapable proof of divine working, and a relentless attack on our pride, our self-righteousness, our self-confidence and all self-absorption.
We are totally unable to produce a complete absence of doubt about the truth in our own hearts and minds. Perhaps we can be fully convinced of a lie because we are liars by nature, but faith in the things of God must be the work of God in us: “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Faith in God is the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:23; it is not listed as a work of the flesh. It is ever and always a product of His grace as the nature and life of Christ increases within us, “ And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 1:14) If you have faith in God and in His Word, it is supernatural and it is the gift of God: “for by grace are ye saved though faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8).
A common misunderstanding here is that faith comes from reading the Bible and that we can get it on our own without God’s help. Such a view promotes self-reliance and ritualism. However, the Bible does not support such a view. The text often quoted to support the lie is Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The text does not say that faith comes by hearing the word of God, which is the way many read it. It actually says that hearing comes by the word of God: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word.”
One may understand it this way: God decrees who will hear and those who hear grow in faith as the truth comes to them. God decrees that an individual will believe – His Word goes forth in this decree and is certain. This is His election, and this text in Romans is embedded in a more robust context teaching the principle of election. (Rom 10:16-11:10) God grants repentance and faith to someone, and so gives them spiritual ears with which to hear. They become a spiritually hearing person: hearing has come by the Word of God. Now, when God speaks truth to a hearing person, whether directly in person, through a brother or sister, or through the texts of the Bible, that hearing person receives the Word of God and believes what God says: their faith is increased — not in degree but in scope. Faith comes as truth comes. Believing the truth of God comes naturally to one who has spiritual ears, as Jesus said often, ” He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt 11:15; 13:9,43; etc)
Once a person fully understands that faith is a gift, then all pretense and pride must be released. Without Him we are powerless and helpless in spiritual things. We are dead men walking, unable to help ourselves … not even able to want to help ourselves without His aid. We cannot produce faith; only God can do this. We must admit that we are powerless to create or maintain our faith, and this should produce in us a constant state of joy, a godly humility and a thankfulness that reflects such a gift. It produces an utter dependence on God that draws us ever nearer to Him to cling tightly to Him.
The fact that faith is supernatural seems also to imply that it is a rare and precious thing, and that anyone possessing it should be deeply grateful for it. In the parable of the unjust judge Jesus suggested that faith in God will be very uncommon when He returns. He asked rhetorically, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) It is plain that few are saved, “because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7:14) Few are saved because few have faith. Finding faith is finding the gate. This makes faith precious in two respects: it is both rare and exceedingly valuable. This is why Peter writes, “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us, through the righteousness of God.” (2 Pet 1:1) Recognizing this fact promotes unspeakable thankfulness.
Full assurance is another state that accompanies faith, a state which sadly eludes so many millions of careless, doubting churchgoers in our day. God exhorts us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (Heb 10:22) It is not partial assurance, or weak assurance … it is the “full assurance” of faith. It was the appearance of this quality in the lives of the Thessalonian people that convinced Paul of their election of God. He wrote to them, ” Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” (1Th 1:4-5) If full assurance of salvation is lacking, it is because faith is lacking; faith brings with it full assurance and it is one genuine, unmistakable, consistent evidence of faith.
If you are presently doubting your salvation in any manner whatsoever, you do not have faith and you must with all diligence get it from God. There is no hope for you to develop it yourself. We have direction, whether we have ever had faith before or whether we have never had faith, to seek faith from God: “ the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”(Luke 17:5)
As assurance is the natural fruit of faith, uncertainty and anxiety is the natural consequence of unbelief and doubt. Doubt must be destroyed in us, not ignored and swept under the rug: it is our greatest enemy. Faith must be sought as the gift of God until the soul is comforted with utter and complete assurance from Him. Without God’s help we can do nothing about it … but, we need not be without God’s help and comfort.
Mutual comfort of the saints is also a product of mutual faith. Paul writes in Romans 1:11-12, “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Being with others who have obtained faith in God, and sharing our joys and sorrows with them, is a comforting thing. However, if faith were merely a product of our own wills and flesh then to find comfort in the faith of another would be to put our confidence in Man and in the flesh. But the fact that faith is a gift of God implies that when we draw comfort in the faith of another soul we are actually finding comfort in God Himself and not in the flesh. When our faith fails or weakens, if through trial or deception our confidence in some aspect of our Lord’s character or promises is lost for a time, we can be encouraged by God through His gift of faith in our companions in Christ. Knowing that other Christians are growing and being strengthened in their faith as they come to know, love, and understand our Lord better is a great comfort and blessing.
Another singularly important aspect of faith is that it is described as the most important part of the Christian’s spiritual armor: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”(Eph 6:16) When Satan comes to try us with doubting, speculating, and discouragement we must have God strengthening our faith to resist him. Complete assurance laughs at the deceiver’s lie, but the doubting, unshielded, unbelieving heart is pierced, wounded, and crushed.
Faith is the building block upon which the entire Christian life is built. Peter writes, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge .”(2 Pet 1:5) Without faith we have nothing valid to add virtue to, and without virtue, knowledge puffs up and destroys the soul. How can we grow as Christ would have us to if we do not begin by strengthening our faith? However, if we lay a proper foundation, we have a stable platform upon which to build and grow in Christ-likeness.
Faith is the vital link to the indwelling Christ in our hearts. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” (Eph 3:17) Christ is our life, and “the just shall live” this life “by faith” (Heb 10:39). It is by faith that we are to walk in Him and obey Him, trusting His Word and the guidance of His Spirit. It is “impossible to please Him” without faith (Heb 11:6) “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23). Our every move, thought, and breath is to be a product of our utter dependence and obedience to God, our knowledge of His will and His truth and our submission to it is a natural fruit of faith.
All doubt with respect to eternal things, ideally, is to be removed from our life. It is only in Christ that we note this, and how beautifully it is found in Him!. There is never any hint of doubt or confusion in all of His earthly existence (not even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when This Cup is rightly understood). He is our Model and our Example. He was full of faith in that He did nothing apart from faith; in us faith is our link to Him. That same Christ in us never doubts, and we should long to be filled with Him that we might be like Him. This is a life-long pursuit that we will never complete … for no one is ever close enough to Christ, or enough like Him. Perfect faith is the ideal, but, as we have noted, it is not necessarily sinful to be in doubt about some things along the way.
No discussion of the nature of faith would be complete without addressing the primary concerns raised by those who opposed Luther’s claim that we are saved by faith in Christ apart from works. However, as Luther points out so well, faith does not exist apart from works: genuine faith always produces works that are consistent with that faith. This is clear from the book of James, who, rather than contradicting the doctrine of salvation by faith, is helping us see what faith really looks like. The key text is James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
James does not teach us to depend upon works to save us, what James is saying is that faith does not exist in a vacuum; faith does not exist in isolation, by itself, alone. Anyone claiming to have faith in God without any works to reflect that faith is either lying or deceived. We all act according to the way we believe. Luther says this same thing very elegantly. Faith changes our whole life; it works before we can even talk about how important works are. Right works springs from right faith like water bubbling up from a spring. We can no more separate the two than we can heat and light from the flame. But it is not the doing that justifies, it is the believing.
When we believe that Christ has died for us and forgiven us it produces thankfulness, humility, comfort and assurance. It moves us to share the good news with others, to help them find faith and forgiveness. It moves us to love and serve others, even our enemies, knowing that our eternal needs are fully met in Christ. We are moved to walk humbly and uprightly with our God. When we do not believe that the work of Christ is sufficient to save us, this is unbelief, and this state produces unrest, confusion and fear. It moves us to try harder, to hide, take cover and protect ourselves, to dwell in darkness rather than light, to redefine words and lower God’s standards, and ultimately to condemn and abuse others, as well as ourselves. What we believe produces fruit, which includes both emotions and behaviors. We cannot separate the two, and we must never try to do so.
A Call to Pursue
Faith is a key element in the Christian life. It is the substance of Christian life and thought. It is by faith that one becomes a Christian, and it is by faith that one stays strong in Christ. Faith in God is not of us but supernatural in origin, and so — pure and strong — it is proof of the truth of its object: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is vital to our spiritual health and well being since, “without faith it is impossible to please” God.
A current lack of understanding concerning the nature of faith is, in my opinion, devastating Christian organizations and movements all around the world. According to the testimony of Martin Luther, this is not a new thing. Now, as then, fervent ignorance is bringing a reproach upon Jesus Christ in our culture; churches are filled with tares instead of wheat, resulting in division instead of purity and unity. Faith must be known and experienced in the Churches if the earthly bride is to bring pleasure to her heavenly Husband. We must be more diligent before our God to obtain faith from Him and encourage others to seek faith from God.. We must say with the Apostles, “Lord, increase our faith.”