Religious faith is on life support. Droves are dumping belief in God and miracles.
The defectors are fed up. They no longer believe in a supposed “magical being with superpowers who reads minds and grants wishes,” as atheists brazenly mock.
A Pew Research poll released in August 2016 revealed a trend away from belief in the supernatural. People who identify as atheists, agnostics or who have no religious affiliation—known as “nones”—make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population. Most “nones” (78 percent) were actually raised with a religious affiliation. Despite being exposed to religion during their formative years, half this group cited non-belief as the reason they left.
When asked to elaborate on why they moved on from religion, the responses were sobering: “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things.” “Religion is the opiate of the people.” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator.” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window.” “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it.”
Their answers reflect a mix of pessimism, rationalization and defeat.
Faith is dying, leaving religionists wringing their hands for solutions.
The Catholic Church, which has exercised religious governance spanning two millennia, is considered by its adherents an authority on faith. Knowing few understand the subject, Pope Francis attempted to explain its meaning in his 2013 encyclical titled Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). In the document, he compared faith to a “guiding light.”
Building on the analogy, he wrote: “…in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the goad of our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere…The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”
This is far from a concrete definition of faith!
Encyclicals are written to Catholic bishops. They interpret these and other doctrinal “mysteries” for followers. The word mystery and other terms closely related to it are found nearly 400 times in the Catechism, a summary of Catholic beliefs. The pope’s enigmatic explanation on faith continues this theme.
Protestants, attempting to clarify and simplify the meaning of faith, established the tenet of sola fide (Latin for “faith alone”). Their goal was to remove the necessity of doing works to achieve salvation, a belief prevalent in the Catholic Church. This eventually led many in the Protestant movement to reject the role of outward acts in Christianity entirely, claiming faith or belief alone is all that is required.
Then there are those who reject organized religion. They claim faith is all about spirituality and reduce it to a series of mushy-sounding proclamations based on feelings.
Others believe faith is all about confidence and being strong-minded. Yet another group sees having faith as maintaining optimism in a bad situation and keeping a positive attitude.
No one seems able to pin down a single coherent meaning of faith. It is no wonder people are abandoning religion.
The Bible does call faith a “mystery” (I Tim. 3:9). This explains why most find it so difficult to explain.
Yet God’s Word also says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6).
This means faith is a mystery that God wants you to understand!
Scripture says that faith is beyond having hope or confidence. The Bible separates all three necessary qualities. Notice: “And now abides faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love]” (I Cor. 13:13). Hope is clearly separate from faith. Christians are told in Hebrews 10:35 to “cast not away therefore your confidence,” just before being told only three verses later that “the just live by faith.” Confidence and faith are different as well.
After proper guidance, some yearning to know the true meaning of faith are surprised to learn that the Bible gives a very straightforward definition. You can join them in understanding.
First some context. Immediately after a promise of Jesus Christ’s Return to Earth, the reader is told “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:38-39). God is saying that He is not pleased with those who “cower” or “shrink” from following Him. Despite what may seem like intimidating or unbelievable circumstances, we are to believe Him and save our lives in the process.
The natural questions coming off this would be, “How can I do this? How can I resist the urge to doubt—and believe God instead?”
God immediately tells us that it takes faith and goes on to define it. Notice: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We should examine each key term. (Definitions are based on Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The serious reader will want to examine these for himself.)
The word “Now,” meaning but, and or moreover, connects the definition of faith to the end of the previous chapter. (Understand that there were no chapter breaks in the original text.) “Faith” means persuasion or conviction. From here, God, through Paul, specifies what this faith or conviction is. He describes it as both a “substance” and “evidence.”
Substance means a setting under or a support. This indicates that faith is the support or foundation upon which hope is built. (This offers more proof that faith is different than hope). It is the support upon which an expectation is based. You fully expect something to transpire because it is resting on faith.
God also calls faith evidence, meaning proof. People know what evidence is. For instance, evidence in a court of law is proof used to determine guilt or innocence. Yet God uniquely differentiates this proof from that shown in a courtroom. He says it is evidence of “things not seen.” This is vital to understand.
Human beings depend on their five senses to observe the world around them. If evidence cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt, it is usually discounted as non-existent. On the contrary, true faith, by definition, cannot be observed. It goes beyond the senses. Faith itself is the evidence that everything will work out as God promises. This is why we are required to “walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
Related to “things not seen,” one can only hope for something that has not occurred. Once an expectation is seen or comes to pass, there is no further need to hope for it. This ties the first and second parts of Hebrews 11:1 together.
Technically, a person can base their faith on anything that meets the criteria of “things hoped for” or “things not seen.” Consider. A plummeting skydiver can hope that a colleague properly prepared his parachute equipment the day before. A young mother leaving the mechanic’s shop with her children in tow can rely upon a signed work order as “evidence” that they reattached the brake line on her vehicle. However, in both cases, there is no surety that everything will work out as hoped for—and in the off chance something goes wrong, the results could be catastrophic.
What makes the life-changing faith of Hebrews 11 different is that it rests on something fail-safe—something guaranteed. The only things in the universe that are fully guaranteed are God’s promises.
Are you beginning to see faith more clearly? It is not a label for a certain religion or denomination. It is not a character trait used to describe someone who seems religious. It is more than having blind hope that everything will work out. It also goes beyond just believing Jesus died for the sins of mankind. Faith is much bigger than all this. It is a basic “doctrine of Christ” that should be understood early on by a Christian (Heb. 6:1).
Faith is unique in Scripture in that it is on two short lists. It is both a fruit of God’s Spirit as well as a gift of God’s Spirit. In describing God’s character, Galatians 5 says: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…” (vs. 22-23). Faith also joins wisdom, knowledge, working of miracles, prophecy, healing and speaking and understanding different languages as gifts given and manifested by the power of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:4-11). Appearing on both lists elevates faith in importance.
Being named as a fruit of the Spirit makes faith one of God’s character traits. Are you surprised by this? Most would assume God simply wants His followers to have faith. Yet this is not the case. God Himself has faith. This is why Christ, who was God manifest in flesh (John 1:1, 14), displayed it so well.
Jesus demonstrated faith perfectly during His earthly ministry. He was willing to die for what He believed. He knew His Father’s plan and stuck to it through the excruciating pain and suffering of a corrupt trial, gruesome beating, and eventual crucifixion. His faith was obviously much more than having a positive outlook on life or remaining optimistic or upbeat.
Because it is also a gift, godly faith is not something we can work up on our own. While we can and should have a certain “human faith” according to the Hebrews 11:1 definition, we are justified, or made righteous, by the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16). Did you catch that? Notice it did not say faith in Jesus Christ, but instead said we must have the faith of Jesus Christ. This is important to understand. We must have Christ’s faith in us—which comes through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we must grow in faith. Remember “doubting Thomas”? It was reported to him that the resurrected Jesus had been sighted. Christ said all along He would be brought back from the dead, yet somehow Thomas doubted the reports. Perhaps he believed for a time but lost sight once he observed Christ’s brutal torture and murder by the Roman government—in effect his senses took over. It eventually took Christ telling Thomas to plunge his hand into His side before he believed.
Jesus went on to differentiate those who believe based on His words alone from those who need tangible proof to believe (John 20:27-29). These are just a few of the many verses that explain the subject of faith.
What about the belief that faith alone is required to receive salvation? This scenario is impossible. Full-fledged belief and trust in God always leads to action. This is the reason James said that “faith, if it has not works, is dead…” (Jms. 2:17).
For a person to have true faith in God, they obviously must know who He is. With this in mind, read the following powerful verse in I John 2: “He that says, I know Him [God], and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (vs. 4).
Evidently, it is not a matter of just believing in God. Demons do that (Jms. 2:19). Belief must manifest itself in action, namely obedience to what God requires. This was James’ point in the previous verse, in which he inextricably tied actions or “works” to faith. It is by our actions that our faith is demonstrated to others—including God (vs. 18).
True faith compelled servants of God to do extraordinary things. Paul practically boasted of their exploits throughout Hebrews 11.
Abel demonstrated his faith by sacrificing the very best of the “firstlings of his flock.” Literally burning something of value for the sake of his Creator took faith. His offering was deemed “more excellent” than his brother Cain’s offering of firstfruits from the ground (vs. 4). There is no indication that Cain took the time to select the very best (Gen. 4:2-4). Cain’s offering was ultimately rejected, leading him to kill Abel in anger and jealousy. This shows that a demonstration of true faith can lead to physical death.
Enoch also pleased God through his faith (Heb. 11:5) and walked with Him during his life (Gen. 5:22-24). After referencing Enoch, the book of Hebrews states that God is a “rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (11:6). Enoch demonstrated sustained faith over an extended period of time, which will lead to a reward. This is another primary example for us.
Even those with little Bible knowledge have heard the story of Noah and the ark. He built the large boat to save his family and the animals from a coming flood (vs. 7). Though Noah had no proof that a rainstorm of a magnitude never seen or recorded before would occur, he dutifully heeded God’s warning. By his actions, he “condemned” his neighbors who chose not to take God at His word. By faith, Noah believed God and saved his life and the lives of his family. We can do the same.
Abraham, often called the “father of faith,” is revered for taking God at His word.
For instance, after 75 years of building a life for himself and his family, he immediately departed his homeland upon request by God (Gen. 12:4). To show his gratitude after victory over four kings in a military effort to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14-16), Abraham faithfully obeyed God and gave part of his wealth to pay tithes to Melchizedek, King of Salem (vs. 18-20). Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:1-4). Parting with hard-earned funds in obedience to God takes faith. Abraham knew his action would result in God blessing him (Mal. 3:10).
Abraham also believed God when He promised that his wife Sarah, faithful in her own right, would give birth to a son even in her old age. Later, Abraham was willing to sacrifice this same son without argument. He knew Isaac was a part of a promise that Abraham would father many nations (Gen. 12:2) and thus God could bring him back from the dead if necessary (Heb. 11:19). This is despite there being no “evidence” of any resurrections until that point.
While Abraham had faith his descendants would grow into “many nations,” this did not happen during his lifetime. God spared Isaac and he went on to father Jacob, whose sons gave birth to the 12 tribes of Israel.
Abraham’s faith ultimately led to some of the most powerful nations today, as explained in David C. Pack’s book America and Britain in Prophecy.
God was true to His word!
The list of faithful servants and their actions goes on. Joseph’s faith led him, against insurmountable odds, to become co-ruler in the most powerful nation in the world at the time. Moses, in faith, chose a meager existence over power and prestige. Though mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22) he decided “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25).
Rahab (Joshua 2:1-22), Gideon (Judg. 6-8), Barak (Judg. 4-5), Sampson (Judg. 13-16), Jephthah (Judg. 11-12), David (I Sam. 17-18), and Hannah (I Sam. 1:1-20), whose stories are detailed in Scripture, all displayed remarkable faith. They could obviously “see” something that others could not (Heb. 11:27).
Jesus wonders whether He will find faith on the Earth when He returns (Luke 18:8). He knows what He will be looking for, and now—so do you.
True faith does not waver. It is a complete and total belief in God, whether you fully understand His ways or not. If your faith in God depends on whether He does things the way you think He should, then it is misguided. God recorded promises He will perform for His people. These promises are sure. However, God does not always say when or how these promises will be fulfilled. This is where faith comes in. We must simply believe that God will do what He says in His own time. Sometimes the response comes immediately and sometimes it comes after a while.
Though we may not know the method or the timing of God’s intervention in our lives, we can know His will for His people. The Bible contains these promises. In order to claim them, we need to know what they are. Our requests must line up with His will. To know what is and is not His will, we must study His words to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
Studying His Word will also cause our faith to increase, since faith “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
Faith does not have to remain a mystery. God says there is “one faith” (Eph. 4:4-5). It is not the counterfeits offered by the world. It is a gift that, if accepted, leads to eternal life. Faith is an unwavering belief that God will perform the promises contained in His Word. This belief must be followed by action.
For more understanding of faith, read the booklet What Is Real Faith? Study it with an open Bible and prove it for yourself.