Humanity Trusts in God: Faith
One of the most essential statements in the entire Bible says simply, “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Why is this short statement so important? I’m sure you will agree that a person’s life is governed by what he or she believes. Christians’ lives are governed by the Person in whom they believe. Faith in Jesus Christ and His offer of salvation is vital to each one of us and to every person in the world.
We cannot help but admire the steadfast courage of the Canaanite woman who would not be denied the healing of her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). We also marvel at the humility of the centurion who felt unworthy to have Christ come into his house (Matthew 8:5-10). And we wonder at the persistence and earnestness of Bartimaeus who, in spite of the resistance of the crowds, shouted out to Jesus for mercy (Mark 10:46-52). Is it possible that a Canaanite woman, a Roman centurion, and a blind beggar had something in common—something that could truly impress the Master? Yes! The one thing that the Lord saw and rewarded in each of these cases was faith. Faith greatly impressed Jesus as He moved among people.
The basic element in the experience of conversion is faith. When a person truly repents, that person must put his or her trust in the Lord Jesus. John tells us “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). In this lesson we consider the believing and receiving aspects of conversion: As we turn from sin to God, we puts our whole trust in the Lord Jesus for pardon, and for the great change which is brought about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
- The Importance of Faith
- The Nature of Faith
- The Elements of Faith
- The Experience of Faith
When you finish this lesson you should be able to:
- Explain the importance of saving faith in the work of salvation.
- Identify the elements in saving faith and explain the significance of each.
- Appreciate more fully the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God by which faith is created and maintained.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
Objective 1. Explain the importance of faith in the Christian life.
Every feature of our salvation is a supernatural work which God alone can do. Let’s review these features:
- Divine election in past ages.
- The sacrifice of a Savior.
- The provision of common and saving grace.
- The drawing of the sinner by the Holy Spirit.
- The immediate saving work of God in all its wonderful aspects.
- The keeping work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- The delivering and empowering work of the Spirit.
- The final perfecting and presenting of the saints in glory.
The only way we can receive God’s marvelous provision of salvation is to accept it by faith. The eternal treasures that are provided for us by God’s sovereign grace are available to us by our faith alone.
We see, then, that in addition to our salvation experience, every aspect of our Christian life depends on the exercise of faith. Our actions, to a large extent, are determined by what we believe. We believe that God knows everything we say, do, and think; therefore, we try to do those things that please Him.
Relationship of Faith and Repentance
Objective 2. Recognize differences between repentance and faith in the process of conversion.
In our last lesson we learned that the act of repentance begins a “chain reaction.” But the event of salvation that is set in motion, which involves the aspects of both repentance and faith (and other
aspects of salvation), is such that we should try to see these aspects as occurring at the same time. But for convenience in discussing each aspect, we have adopted the following order: repentance, faith, conversion, regeneration, justification, and adoption.
Turning from sin (repentance) and turning to God (faith) are the conditions for salvation. There is no merit to repentance and faith. God has already provided all that is necessary for salvation. But by repentance we remove the obstacle to receiving the gift of salvation, and by faith we accept the gift.
Repentance concerns sin and the misery it causes, while faith dwells upon the mercy of God. Faith is the means by which we receive salvation (Romans 10:9,10). There can be no faith without true repentance, for only the one who is truly sorry for his or her sins feels the need of a Savior and salvation for his or her soul. On the other hand, there can be no godly repentance without faith in God’s Word, for how else could one believe in the offer of salvation and the threat of eternal judgment?
THE NATURE OF FAITH
Definition of Faith
Objective 3. Recognize the basic biblical meaning of the word faith.
We have seen that faith is a vital to our Christian life. And we have noted that faith determines, to a large degree, our actions. But what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 gives us a description of one of the effects of faith, but does not define the term. For our purposes, faith will be defined as “the voluntary act and attitude of a person by which he or she places complete confidence in a trusted object, allowing that object to govern his or her actions.” In the spiritual realm the trusted object is God, and hearing and believing the Word of God bring about the voluntary act.
Faith is both belief and trust. In the Old Testament the term believe is used to translate the Hebrew word which means “to build up or support, to make firm or faithful, to trust.” In the New Testament it is used to translate one Greek word that means “to have faith or trust, put trust in, commit,” or another Greek word which means “to assent, rely, be persuaded, have confidence in.” As we shall see later in detail, to believe, when used with God or Christ as its object, involves three things: 1) to be in agreement with the truth of what He says or reveals, 2) to receive and trust Him personally, and 3) to
commit oneself to obey Him. The word believe is used quite frequently with the preposition in or on; for example, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), to emphasize the elements of trust and commitment. We must be careful not to limit belief to intellectual assent only. The truth about God is necessary, for the Scripture says, “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). However, belief about God is not enough: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). And while the demons believe, they remain demons.
Faith thus means to abandon all trust in our own resources and to cast ourselves completely on the mercy of God. As we are led toward conversion, the Holy Spirit helps us to believe in the truth of the Scriptures. In this way we gain confidence in the grace of God. This is faith.
As we become more familiar with the definitions and descriptions of faith, we must remember the following: “Faith is the flight of the penitent sinner to the mercy of God in Christ,” which enables a person to say, “In saving faith, I forsake unbelief and self-confidence and take Christ. I rest my eternal destiny confidently in Him.”
Kinds of Faith
Objective 4. Identify the different kinds of faith.
Faith can be described in a number of ways. While we usually think of faith in relation to spiritual experience, there is also a nonreligious faith with which we are familiar. For example, we believe in our electrical systems, and so we press switches and turn on the lights. We have faith in our traffic systems, so we drive at high rates of speed toward oncoming cars with nothing separating us but a thin line on the road. We have faith in our banking systems so we deposit money in banks. And because we believe in airplanes and trust the skill of pilots, we fly. Nonreligious faith is evident in these and many other ways every day.
Then there is intellectual faith. This faith believes something about Jesus but it does not believe in Him. Many people in our world believe there is a God, but this mental assent does not lead them to salvation. And some people believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but they never read it or commit themselves to follow its teachings. Intellectual faith lacks one key feature: action. James 2:18 describes this kind of faith for us in vivid language: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
The most important and complete kind of faith is living faith. We can contrast it with dead or inactive faith. Living faith is the result of our saving faith and refers to the ongoing, obedient, commitment of our lives to Christ and His purposes. For living faith, we rely on the power of the indwelling Spirit for daily strength. Paul describes this kind of faith in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
In contrast to living faith, dead or inactive faith produces no actions. Here again James speaks to the point: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).
One of the qualities of living faith is good actions. As a healthy thriving plant grows, matures and produces fruit, so living faith is always accompanied by good actions. These good actions do not save a person, but they do give evidence of the vitality of his or her faith. One does good because by the grace of God he or she is good. Good actions, which are the fruit the Spirit produces, flow naturally out of living faith, because its source is God (Galatians 5:22).
THE ELEMENTS OF FAITH
Objective 5. Describe the elements of saving faith and explain the significance of each.
Saving faith has three basic elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. Saving faith is the voluntary act and attitude of a person by which the person places his or her complete confidence in Christ, allowing Him to govern all actions. This act is brought about by hearing and believing the basic facts about the person and work of Christ that are in the Word of God. The facts cause us to commit our entire being to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like repentance, faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will.
Knowledge. Suppose you were called upon to believe. You might well ask, “Whom must I believe?” Notice that the Bible doesn’t say, “just believe;” it says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31; also see Romans 10:9,10). Faith is also based upon the knowledge of God as revealed in nature and in the facts of Scripture. Faith develops through knowledge of the teachings of Scripture concerning our sinful nature, the salvation provided in Christ, the conditions of salvation, and the many blessings promised to God’s children. Knowledge of the Lord Jesus and the content of the Christian belief revealed in Scripture is an essential step to faith.
Assent. Assent involves an emotional commitment. It is one thing to know the scriptural and historical facts about Christ, but it is quite another thing to believe that they are true. We could believe (intellectually) the importance of the eternal issues involved in salvation and yet not receive these truths in our heart. Faith is the assent (agreement) of the heart to the rightness of what we know. The heart says yes to all that Christ is and offers to do for us. We must do more than know that these things are true; we must accept them for ourselves.
The example is given of a young man who commended a preacher on the sermon he had just preached. The preacher asked, “Are you a Christian?” The youth replied, “Yes.” The preacher questioned further, “How long have you been a Christian?” The youth said, “Oh, sir, all of my life.” The preacher pursued the issue, “Have you had a personal experience with Christ or demonstrated your faith in some way, then?” The youth smiled as he explained, “Sir, it was not I personally who was converted. Many years ago my great-great-grandparents were converted into the Christian faith. They brought the whole family into the faith. So all of us family members are Christians; we come from a long line of Christians.” The preacher responded, “That’s fine. But let’s suppose that you see a young couple eating breakfast in your hotel. You ask the young man, ‘How long have you been married?’ He says, ‘We are not married, but our great-great- grandparents were married. We come from a long line of married people.’ Is that enough?” The youth saw the point and smiled. So our knowledge of Christ needs the assent of the heart to accept Him for ourselves.
Trust. If a person has knowledge of the gospel and assents to the truth of the gospel, but does not commit to the person of Jesus Christ, that person does not have saving faith. Christian faith is more than accepting the revelation of God and His salvation as true. It is more than assenting to it as being necessary for ourselves. Trust represents the act of the will, the decision by which we commit ourselves fully to Christ and to what we believe are His directing principles of life. It is certain that we cannot be saved without exercising our own free will to actively give ourselves to Christ.
THE EXPERIENCE OF FAITH
We have considered the importance of faith in the Christian life, and we have discussed its nature and elements. But it is a fruitless exercise if we do not experience faith. I know a person who firmly believes in democracy, in basic human rights, the right of citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to participate in government. This person made outstanding marks in his studies of government, yet he is unable to exercise these rights because he has not become a legal citizen of the country in which he lives. In the same way, even though we may understand all about faith, if we do not apply it and accept what God has provided for us, we are like aliens from God. Let us keep this in mind as we consider the experience of faith.
Degrees of Faith
Objective 6. Recognize examples of different degrees of faith.
A living relationship with Jesus Christ will produce the desire to grow in faith. Observe the response of the twelve disciples to Jesus’ example of loving forgiveness, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). The Twelve realized that to have divine love and compassion, they needed an enlarged spiritual capacity—greater faith to do what Jesus commanded. Faith grows and develops. For this reason we can speak of degrees of faith.
Notice that when writing to the church at Corinth, Paul expressed hope that the faith of the people would grow so that God might be able to do a much greater work among them (2 Corinthians 10:16). And in his first letter to the Thessalonians he prayed for an opportunity to minister to them again to supply what was lacking in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:9,10). Their faith was then in its infancy, but it needed to grow and mature as they faced fierce and determined opposition. However, by the time Paul wrote his second letter to them, he was able to thank God because their faith was growing more and more (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
Often we are involved in situations that demand greater faith than we have. But as we walk with the Lord in obedience and love, our relationship will grow and our faith will increase.
Consistent, earnest prayer and communion with Him bring greater faith and the answers to seemingly impossible situations (Mark 9:29). May our prayers have the intensity of the needy father who said, “I do believe; help me over come my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Faith is living and dynamic—living faith grows.
Little faith is a characteristic of spiritual infants, but God expects us to advance on to greater faith and spiritual maturity. Little faith keeps us spiritually ineffective and unable to carry on Christ’s work. Little faith allows us to doubt.
In the introduction to the lesson, we saw examples of great faith. It is significant that on only two occasions did Jesus commend (praise) great faith. In the first case the Roman centurion believed that the authority of the word of Jesus would bring instant healing to his servant, even though he was some distance away (Matthew 8:5-13). In the second case, the Canaanite woman kept asking Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter even though He did not at first respond to her plea. She asked again, and once more she was denied. However, this time she sensed something in Jesus’ tone that gave her hope. In her determination she said words that meant something like this: “Lord, I may not be one of your people, but I am one of God’s creatures, and I believe your message. Out of your abundant mercy, grant me just a little portion.” Recognizing that her faith would not give up, Jesus commended her great faith and healed her daughter.
Another example of great faith is that demonstrated by Abraham. Even though he was old and his wife was not able to have children, he believed God’s promise that he would have a son. In spite of the physical impossibility, Abraham persisted in believing God because he had strong faith. Strong faith enabled him to be “fully persuaded” that what God promised He would perform (Romans 4:18-21). Strong faith holds on until the answer comes.
The writer to the Hebrews describes great faith in another way in 10:22 where he says that we are to draw near to God “in full assurance of faith.” This speaks of confidence we have as we draw near to God. Fullness of faith refers to the certain trust, the settled conviction, the supreme confidence we have in our wonderful Lord.
Every Christian experiences various degrees of faith in his or her life. Most of us have come to some circumstance that has for a moment shaken us, and we have responded with little faith. Whatever our past experiences have been, we can be sure that our faith will be tested. Tested faith is faith that proves its vitality. Testing is to faith what the fire is to steel: the heat of the fire strengthens the steel, and testing develops strength and endurance in Christians. As you read Hebrews 11, notice the activities of those who were tested and how they stood the test. Some lived on through many tests and in faith achieved great victories. Others who stood the test kept their faith and in their martyr’s death were promoted to a better life. Still others lived amid cruel mockings and whippings, bonds and imprisonment. They could have lived normal lives, but they refused to compromise with evil. These people lived for something better and more enduring than things of earth. Old Testament saints looked by faith to the coming of the Messiah. They died with undimmed vision! They now wait for the appearing of Jesus when, together, we shall be perfected in His presence—our salvation complete.
Peter says that the purpose of testing is to prove that our faith is genuine (1 Peter 1:6,7). And James notes that when faith succeeds in facing trials, it produces the ability to endure (James 1:3).
God permits us to be tested so that we can learn to trust Him completely in spite of our circumstances. As we learn to lean on Him for our needs, our love for Him grows and our faith increases also. Testing serves to make faith stronger and more durable through each experience of life. In this way faith becomes precious.
Source of Faith
Objective 7. Describe the source of faith in relation to God and the believer.
Saving faith has both a human and a divine viewpoint. From the divine viewpoint, faith is the gift of God (Romans 12:3; 2 Peter 1:1). For example, in John’s Gospel we read, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In the work of conversion, the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit is strongly implied, for He alone can move one’s heart to repentance and toward God (Acts 3:19; Philippians 2:12,13). And in Hebrews we read that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Moreover, the Holy Spirit works in the body of Christ on special occasions as the “gift” of faith operates (1 Corinthians 12:9). The Spirit also produces fruit in our lives, one of which is faith. Thus, from the divine viewpoint, faith is God-given.
Nevertheless, we must not wait passively for God’s gift of faith to come to us. The fact that people are commanded to believe implies their ability and obligation to do so. All people have the ability to place their confidence in some person or some thing. When belief is directed to the Word of God and confidence is placed in God and Christ, we have saving faith. The Word of God produces it (Romans 10:17; Acts 4:4). The Scriptures reveal our need, state the conditions, indicate the promises, and point out the blessings of salvation. It is our responsibility, then, to read and study the Word of God so that faith will begin and grow in our hearts.
Objective 8. List the means by which Christians can maintain faith.
Earlier we discussed the importance of faith in the Christian life, and we have considered its source. However, faith cannot be taken for granted. It must be maintained. Trying to maintain life and growth in the Christian experience without nourishing one’s faith is like trying to operate a car without fuel. The potential is there, but it is incapable of performing its intended function. Another comparison to maintaining faith is riding a bicycle: the rider must keep moving or he or she will fall. Let’s see what the Bible says about this need to maintain faith.
In an inspired prophetic statement Habakkuk declared: “The righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). And in the New Testament this statement, “The righteous will live by faith,” is repeated three times (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). This truth indicates that spiritual life depends on living faith. The apostle Paul thus encourages the Colossians to continue in their faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel, so that their salvation may be assured (Colossians 1:23). He exhorts the Corinthian believers to be on their guard and to stand firm in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13) as they set themselves for the defense of the gospel. Moreover, he challenges Christians at Ephesus to take the shield of faith so that they “can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). The need to have and maintain faith, therefore, is evident. Some ways that we can maintain faith are:
- Reading the Word
- Relationships with others who demonstrate faith
- Group worship
Thus, as a natural person requires food and nourishment to live in a healthy state, so in a spiritual person faith must be nurtured and exercised. Paul exhorts Timothy to “pursue faith” (1 Timothy 6:11,12), and later, he encourages him to “flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue . . . faith” (2 Timothy 2:22). As faith is maintained, it grows in vitality and usefulness, helping us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Nevertheless, the most significant factor to remember is that when we are in union with Christ, He intercedes for us so that our faith will not fail (Luke 22:32). As long as He is in control we continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Conditions and Effect of Faith
Objective 9. List some of the significant conditions and effects of faith.
“Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). When we place our faith in God, the possibilities open to us are unlimited. Faith is the key that unlocks the resources of heaven for us. Jesus said, “If you have faith . . . Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17: 20). However, faith cannot be separated from the will of God. John qualifies this, “This is the
assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Here John states a condition for asking and receiving. Some promises in the Bible are unconditional; however, most promises are conditional, requiring an appropriate response in us if we are to receive the thing promised. We must remain in Christ, and His Word must remain in us (John 15:7); we must be obedient (1 Peter 1:14); and we must live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
The effects of faith are unlimited. Faith draws from the unlimited resources of heaven to meet the many needs of people on earth. Faith graces their lives all the while, regardless of the circumstances, and it imparts a peacefulness that passes all understanding.