We drive cars, go to doctors, sit on chairs, and put our money in banks that are often called “trust companies.” We trust cars, doctors, chairs, and banks. This is called having faith in these things. Faith, however, is only good if the thing or person being trusted is reliable. Some of us have been disappointed by certain makes of cars; we’ve been mis-diagnosed by doctors; we’ve had chairs fail us suddenly, and we’ve watched banks lose the life savings of their depositors. So we lose faith because we lose confidence in the object of our faith. However, the faith of Scripture is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only has the power but also the ability to do what He promises. His Word is sure and steadfast, and He speaks truth. He never lies and can always be depended upon.
Faith is a key concept of Scripture. Without it we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). We need to believe in the Lord and have faith in Him to have everlasting or eternal life (Jn. 3:15). Sometimes we say our faith is our confidence in the Lord and His Word. Sometimes we say faith is what we believe.
What is it?
Faith is simply trusting someone or something. Believers are those who trust in the Bible and in the Lord of the Bible. Unbelievers are those who do not. Instead, they put their faith in themselves and in what they think is right.
Faith can be great or small, but it is not made great by believing harder; it is made great when we believe more of the promises God has given us. When we are first saved, we have faith that Christ died for our sins. As we begin to walk with God and look into His Word we learn that He has given us other great and precious promises. As we rely more and more on His promises our faith grows. Let’s see what Scripture says about faith.
First, faith is commanded. In Mark 1:15 the Lord says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Repenting and believing are commanded, but we can’t believe until we repent.
It is impossible to make people believe just by telling them that they must. But it is possible to tell people that they must believe if they are going to please God. For example, we can tell people that they need to evacuate in the path of a hurricane. But if they don’t believe the weather reports, they probably won’t evacuate. So if they should say, “The sky is clear and the wind is calm. I don’t believe the weather report,” we might then say, “A storm is coming, believe it.” Hopefully, then they would check the weather reports for themselves and check the facts so that they would have their mind changed (that is they would repent) and believe that the storm is coming.
I have found through years of gospel preaching that those who say that they cannot believe in the Lord have issues where they do not agree with God. I can tell them to believe, but they will never be able to trust the Lord until they deal with those issues. They may think that good works or baptism should save them. They may think that God is going to be merciful to all, so they don’t need to worry. They may think that there is no real eternal punishment for sin. In some cases, they don’t want to submit to the Lord and His moral standards. Whatever the problem is, until the person believes God with regard to that issue, they will not be able to believe that Christ died for their sins.
Second, faith is the permanent character of a person. It is not something that we decide is right today but that we can change our minds about tomorrow. That may be true of our confidence in a car, a doctor or a bank, but that cannot be true of our confidence or trust in the Lord if it is truly biblical faith.
We have to remember that believing is not what makes the promises of God reliable. They are reliable whether we believe them or not. But when we believe the promises, they become effective in our lives. My believing that two and two equals four is a fact I learned in school. All the believing in the world will not make two and two equal five. Because I have perfect confidence in the fact that two and two equals four, I use that truth when I balance my checkbook. I don’t even think about whether it’s true because it’s now a part of my belief system. In like manner, I am convinced that Christ died for my sins, and even though I may hear arguments from unbelievers to the contrary, I will never be convinced that Christ did not die for me. It is part of my permanent belief system. Because faith in the Lord is the permanent character of a believer, I am confident that once I am saved, I am saved forever. Not only is my salvation and faith based on what God has done for me, and not on what I have done for God, but also the truth of what God has done will never change.
Third, faith is a work of God that He requires of us, but it is not a work of righteousness. In John 6:28-29 the Lord was asked, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” His answer was, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” However, salvation is not a “work of righteousness” (Ti. 3:5). There is nothing we can do to deserve to be saved. No work we do will make us righteous. But we can strive to enter in and we can search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:11).
Lastly, faith is a gift. In Ephesians 2:8 Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Some think that faith and only faith is the gift in this verse, but I suggest that salvation by grace through faith is all included in the gift. In 1 Corinthians 13, the faith to move mountains is definitely a gift of grace that not everyone has. Even though this chapter is not dealing with saving faith, it is dealing with faith in the promises of God, and here faith is a gift.
Faith then has many facets and our faith cannot be put in a box that limits the way God has worked in people’s lives.
How is it obtained?
Many people try to present faith as a formula, decision or prayer. The biblical doctrine is that there is no formula other than the need to repent to believe. Faith comes by listening to God and His Word. John 5:24 records Jesus as saying: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” And Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” John wrote His gospel so that we could have confidence in the Lord and believe: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). Then he wrote his first letter so that those who read it might know that they have eternal life (1 Jn. 5:13). If we don’t know that we have eternal life then we haven’t really trusted in Christ or believed in the name of the Son of God.
Observation, reason and logic are all involved. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring about a miracle that is called a new birth. The Spirit and the Word were working together in creation in Genesis (Gen. 1:1-2; Jn. 1:1-2,14), and they work together in new birth.
Faith involves a decision but faith isn’t the decision itself. Faith may be expressed by a prayer but the prayer isn’t necessarily faith. The Roman centurion in Acts 10 prayed, but he still needed faith in the Lord Jesus to be saved. Some people ask God to save them and forgive them, but after the Lord died on the cross that was never done in Acts or the Epistles. It does not seem necessary to ask for a gift that is already being offered. A prayer of thanks for the gift might make more sense. Likewise, Christ has offered us forgiveness and reconciliation. We don’t need to ask for it, but we need to believe in it and trust that His saving work is done.
Many evangelists like to tell people how to believe. But biblically speaking, we tell people what or who to believe and then let the Holy Spirit use the Word of God to convict them of their sins and turn them to the Lord so that they can trust Him. When I am working with a person who is struggling with this issue of faith, I often read a passage of Scripture with them and then ask them if the passage is true rather than asking them if they believe it. I have found that most of us have no trouble believing what we are convinced is true.
Can it be lost?
Saving faith cannot be lost since it is based on what God has done for us, not what we have done for God. Faith in people can be lost because people are undependable. Faith in unbiblical practices can be lost because we may have depended on things that were not true. Some of God’s promises are conditional, and so faith that God will save us from situations that require obedience can be lost if we are not obedient. But faith in the finished work of Christ cannot be lost.
To maintain our faith we need to stay occupied with the object of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ. We stay occupied with Him by meditating on His Word, by praying and by associating with others who love Him.
There are times when Satan attacks us. In Ephesians 6:13-18, when he attacks is called “the evil day” and the weapons of his attack are called “fiery darts.” His fiery darts are the doubts that he puts in our minds. Our protection is to take “the shield of faith” that protects all the other armor and is held in front of the soldier. The shield of faith is not the shield of believing but the shield of what we believe. We need to know the Bible well enough so that when Satan raises doubts in our minds, we can remind him as well as ourselves of the promises God has made in His Word.
Normally, Satan attacks us when we have done something that we know a Christian should not do. Then Satan says, “See, you are not a Christian after all.” That is when we need to do what 1 John 1:9 tells us to do: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This does not save us again but it restores our joy and our fellowship with the Lord. John’s first letter was written for the purpose of helping us maintain our fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and so that our “joy may be full” (1 Jn. 1:3-4). If we obey the Lord, if we confess our sins, if we occupy ourselves with the Lord and His promises, and if we associate with other Christians who are walking with the Lord, our faith in Him should never waver.
Faith in the Lord Jesus is available to all and is needed for salvation. Faith is not based on feelings or emotions, but it is based on the truth of God’s Word. When we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, our lives are built on the Rock that cannot be destroyed by the storms of life or the doubts of Satan (Mt. 7:24-25).
By Bruce Collins
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org