Many religious people think the word “faith” refers to their beliefs. Often people say, “I belong to the Protestant faith,” or “I belong to the Catholic faith,” or “I belong to the Jewish faith.” Or the question may be asked, “To which faith do you belong?” This concept of faith is not as important as understanding what kind of faith is required to really bring results in our lives. To get the results we desire, we need to understand what faith is.
In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Bible definition of faith. It goes beyond one’s religious beliefs. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The word “substance” means “confidence,” or “assurance,” that is, the confidence or assurance that one will receive what he hopes for. The word “evidence” means “proof,” that is, the certainty or the validity that the yet unseen request is certain to come. Jesus said that if one had faith even as small as a mustard seed, it would be possible to move mountains (Matt. 17:20). Another important statement regarding faith is in Hebrews 11:6. It states: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The word “diligently” means “to seek out carefully,” “to search,” or “to inquire.” Two things are emphasized in this text: (1) To please God one must believe He exists, and (2) that He will reward those who carefully seek Him. So, we must believe in God’s existence, and we must believe He will do what He has promised.
The Bible tells us that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2). One who comes to God with doubts about His existence, or doubts that He keeps His word, mistrusts the veracity of God. In effect, he views God as a liar. So faith is predicated upon belief in God and His word-the Truth. God’s existence is the ultimate reality, and His word is irrevocable. His word is Truth (John 17:17). Jesus said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (Luke 21:33). ” . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . ” (John 14:6). To believe in God’s Word is to believe the Truth, that is, to possess and believe in the knowledge of what God has revealed. We must believe His recorded word. The Apostle James wrote that to receive the answer to prayer, we must ask in faith. “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 any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas.1:6-8).
There are millions of people who do not profess Christianity and have no knowledge of the true God. They have no understanding of what the Truth is or what the Bible says. They have no biblical understanding, so at this present time it is impossible for them to have faith. One cannot have faith in God unless one believes in the true God and understands that His word is irrevocable. Why? Because one who comes to God must believe that He is and that He will do as He has promised. Of the millions of professing Christians, how many of them really believe that God’s Word is immutable? They may profess to believe in God, but they do not really believe His word. Why? Because they have adopted man-made traditions and beliefs in place of what the Bible teaches. The fact is: Man is incidental to the Truth rather than the Truth being incidental to the man. It is little wonder Jesus said: ” . . . When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
To apply faith in one’s life, one must exercise faith. Faith begins with the knowledge of the Truth. When we begin to understand the Truth, we must put it to practice. This requires faith-belief in God’s existence and the veracity of His Word. The knowledge of the Truth does not come by human effort. It cannot be conjured up by the mind. It is revealed from God. The Apostle Paul tells us: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). In brief, one comes to the knowledge of the Truth because God calls him. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Cor. 1:26).
God is the One responsible for calling us, but we are responsible for responding. Many seem to fail in that responsibility, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Why? There are many obstacles that can get in the way. The faith of some can be made shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19). Also, Jesus warned of deception. He said: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). Can the elect be deceived? Yes, indeed. Paul warns: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). What many may not have understood is that faith is inseparably linked to obedience. The Bible states the just shall live by faith, that is, to be just they must exercise what is lawful and right in the eyes of God. The Law of God determines what is lawful and right, so faith requires obedience to the Law of God. This is why the Bible states “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38). Of itself, the law cannot make any man just (Gal. 3:11), but obedience to the law by exercising faith in God can. Where there is no obedience, there is no faith. Man must believe what God says and put it to practice in his life.
Ancient Israel is a case in point. The first generation that left the land of Egypt was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Why?
Paul gives the answer:
While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not [refused belief and obedience]? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief [lack of faith]. (Heb. 3:15-19)
That generation was disobedient because they had no faith in God. “And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith” (Deut. 32:20). They doubted the veracity of God’s Word and power. Disbelief is what led to their disobedience. What happened to ancient Israel is for our learning today (1 Cor 10:11). This is why Paul goes on to say: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Heb. 4:1-2). Faith is inseparably linked to obedience.
Can a Christian lose faith and begin to disobey God? Yes, indeed! Paul wrote: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). Timothy was admonished to hold faith and a good conscience. We may have heard the expression: “Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels so good. A good conscience results from being blameless due to one’s conduct or intentions. A bad conscience results from feelings of guilt due to wrong or perceived wrong. The standard of right and wrong is God’s Law. In the Christian context, a bad conscience results from acts of disobedience to God. What is the fundamental cause? A lack of faith in God and what He promises. It is, therefore, axiomatic that a loss of faith leads to disobedience.
The Apostle James wrote that Christians must have a living faith. A living faith is one with works.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only [alone]. (Jas. 2:14-20, 24)
What causes a lack of faith? A lack of faith results from relying on human reasoning when a trial or difficulty arises because of the Truth. When a decision is made that leads to an act that is contrary to the express will of God, a lack of faith leads to disobedience. No human being is perfect. We all make mistakes and sometimes sin. There is a difference, however, between a mistake made through weakness and the conduct of one whose entire lifestyle is contrary to God. True Christians do not habitually practice sin. The Apostle John wrote: “Whosoever is [begotten] of God doth not commit [habitually practice] sin . . . ” (1 John 3:9). After making a mistake and sinning, Christians repent and try to learn from the experience not to repeat the mistake.
The Bible admonishes: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9). A lack of faith means a distrust of God, and a distrust of God leads to a reliance on human reasoning. Human reasoning is generally contrary to the will of God. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). When one trusts in human reasoning, especially his own, he manifests a lack of faith toward God. “Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD” (Jer. 17:5). This text warns us that trusting in man leads to disobedience. Instead we are told to: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). The New Testament teaching is clear. Paul told the Corinthians that their ” . . . faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
There are a number of reasons people lose faith in God. Jesus gave an example in Matthew 13 by the parable of the man who sowed seed in a field. He illustrated where the seed had fallen in verses 3-8, then went on to explain the meaning of the parable.
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matt. 13:18-23)
What happened? Some were swept aside by the influence of Satan. Some lost their interest in God, and consequently their faith, because they had no root in themselves. Others could not endure tribulation or persecution. Still others were too enamored by the amenities of the world. Only a handful was able to exercise the faith necessary to continue to the end. In every example those who turned from God did so because they allowed circumstances to overpower them. Except for the group that was swept aside by Satan and who never really got started, the others had been given the opportunity to know God and His Way of life. There is a reason Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
God allows each of us to choose which way we will go. This is what free moral agency is all about. Free moral agency does not give us the right to determine right and wrong. It only gives us the right to choose. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19).
The disciples knew that they needed more faith. They asked Jesus to increase it (Luke 17:5).
What was His answer?
And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:6-10)
What did He mean? Jesus meant that the daily requirement of exercising faith is a greater accomplishment than the working of miracles. Growing in faith and building character is a lifelong process. Christians must endure to the end (Matt. 24:13). Faith is not something that can be conjured up or purchased. It cannot be generated by willpower. It is a gift from God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). As Christians grow in grace and in knowledge, they are granted more and more faith to overcome the trials and difficulties of life. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). It is through much tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
The Apostle Peter wrote: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). And the Apostle James adds: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
So, who is a man of faith? He is a Christian who believes and trusts in God’s Word. At the same time, he respects God’s Law and obeys it to the best of his ability. With God’s help and by means of the Holy Spirit, he does not allow human reasoning and disobedience to cause him to disregard God’s Word. He knows disobedience to God represents a lack of faith. He also knows that like the Israelites of old, disobedience is the result of unbelief. Unbelievers could not enter the Promised Land. Neither will they enter the Kingdom of God. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But 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. 21:7-8).