What is Faith?

May 3, 2017


Without faith it is impossible to please God.

It is not just the author of Hebrews who says it is true  (Hebrews 11.6).   Leaders from the past, men like Abraham, Moses, Samuel and David, believed it.  So too did Paul, Peter and James in the days of the apostles.  And Christians affirm it is true today.

Clearly, then, it is in your best interest to discover what it means to have faith.  For if you do not know what faith is, how can you begin to know whether God is pleased with you?

The 16th century Reformer, John Calvin, describes faith as being “not a distant view, but a warm embrace of Christ.”  In other words it is not mere mental assent to the idea of there being a God.  Nor is it just accepting what a church teaches.  Calvin specifically mentions Christ.  He does so because true faith is centred on him.

A believer is a person who receives Christ.  He or she welcomes him whole-heartedly.  It is with warm affection that Christ is embraced by faith.  What else does faith do?  I ask you to consider the following.

First, William Gurnall, in The Christian in Complete Armour, says of faith that it “cannot but pray.”  He describes prayer as “the very breath of faith.”  And he asserts that “as a baby comes crying into the world” so it is that a believer prays.

Gurnall learned of the connection between prayer and faith from the Bible and from experience.  A feature of believers in the Bible is that they pray.  That is true of Abraham, Moses and David.  And it is true of Paul as well.

It has long been recognised that believers throughout the history of the church have this in common: they pray.  That is why, in a hymn on the theme of prayer, James Montgomery calls prayer “the Christian’s vital breath” (Number 418 in Christian Hymns, O Thou by whom we come to God).

Secondly, those who have faith are enabled to plead with God for that which he promises to give.  Through knowing Christ they find their affections are stirred and fired up.  They are filled “with all joy and peace” as they believe and “by the power of the Holy Spirit” they “abound in hope.” (Romans 15.13)

They learn to turn the promises of God into pleas and petitions.  As a marksman loads his gun and takes careful aim at the target, so men and women of faith shoot their requests up to Almighty God.

Thirdly, believers discover that through faith they are able to wrestle with God as Jacob did. (Genesis 32.24ff)  They hold on to God with a holy fear, and show that they do not want to let him go.  They persist in asking until God gives what he promises.

To persist in prayer is what believers seek to do.  They learn from the example of Moses, and his colleagues Aaron and Hur, in a conflict with Amalek  (Exodus 17.8ff).  And they prize the lesson taught by Christ in the parable of the widow who persisted to seek justice from an unjust judge until she got it (Luke 18.1-8).

They learn to distinguish false faith from true faith.  They discover that the false will eventually give up whilst the true persists.  That must be so for their prayers issue from a renewed heart that is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit who enables them to pray.

Fourthly, men and women with faith are not overwhelmed.  They can sometimes struggle with questions, as Job did when tragedy struck.  And they can find themselves tempted to give way to fears.  But they find that their fear or reverence of God has a calming influence on them.

They learn not to fret (Psalm 37) but to trust.  And they do so knowing that God rules over all things for the good of his people.  He will never leave nor forsake them.  In his providential dealings with mankind he works out his purposes.  The good that he has planned for his people they in due time enjoy.  He loves them with an everlasting love.  His love for them enables them to hope rather than despair, even in the face of intense pressures.  It functions as an anchor.  And so it is, that those with faith are kept safe like a ship that is anchored is safe.  It may be  blown by the wind or rise and fall on the tides and waves, yet it is held in place by its anchor.

Fifthly, those whose faith is in Christ Jesus, do not fall into despair, nor do they succumb to doubt, when they find their ability to understand or reason stretched to breaking point.  People must have questioned Noah’s sanity as he began to build an ark on dry ground.  Like him, believers are to rest on what God has revealed.  They are to be obedient and faithful.

There will be times when they do not know what to do.  That was what Jeshoshaphat found.  But like him, they are to look to the Lord.  They do so knowing that they will always be looked after by God.  He keeps them in his loving tender care (2 Chronicles 20.12).

Sixthly, Christians live by God’s Word.  They know that those who love him keep his commands  (John 14.15).  God’s commands are not burdensome.  They have both a positive and negative force.

Positively, we are to love God with all our mind, soul, and strength.  We are to pursue godliness and holiness  (Leviticus 11.44; 1 Peter 1.16).

Negatively, we are to shun evil.  The fear of the Lord leads to knowledge.  It produces practical wisdom, teaching the difference between right and wrong  (Job 28.28; Proverbs 1.7; Psalm 111.10).  It is a fear that teaches us “to turn away from evil”  (Job 28.28).

Men and women of faith are taught by the Holy Spirit that the Bible is God’s Word written.  They also learn that they are to live by that word.  Therefore they submit to it.  What do they find?  That the more a person is faithful to that word the stronger their faith.

I do not suggest that you should not value the help provided by other Christians.  But you do well  to ask yourself whether you are more dependent upon them rather than Jesus Christ.  A faith that requires props is not as strong as a faith that rests on Christ alone.  Nor is it as strong as a faith that accepts God’s Word for what it actually is, his Word.

Men and women of faith thank God for all that they experience of his love and favour toward them.  They thank God for the support of other Christians.  But they also learn to lean more on Christ and his Word.  That is the nature of true faith.  And with such God is pleased.

The faith to which God calls us is a faith that embraces Christ.  It is a faith that moves us to pray.  It is a faith that stimulates fervent, wrestling prayer.  It is a faith that does not succumb to fear.  It is a faith that rests on Jesus Christ alone for acceptance with God.  It is a faith that believes and pleads the many precious promises God has given to us.

Happy indeed is the person who has such faith.

EPC  23 April 2017