Faith: Biblical Christian’s Definition

“Thoughts lead on to purposes;” writes Tryon Edwards, “purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny”. In other words, Edwards is trying to say, “Ideas have consequences”.

Faith as used in Christianity is among the most misinterpreted term. Caught in the strong downward streams of 18th century’s enlightenment, many Christians embraced “a strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”(Concise Oxford Dictionary) as a definition of faith.

Hebrews 11:1,6 “ Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen… without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him” and 2 Corinthians 5:7 “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (LEB) are often quoted as proof text to support this definition of faith,viz.: a belief without proof.

M.S. Mills in The Life of Christ attempted to answer the question why Jesus gave a sign (performed miracle) to his disciples at wedding in Cana (John 2: 1-12) but refused to give a sign on demand of the Jews in Jerusalem (John 2:13-22). Mills writes: “Why should this be so? I suggest that the logic of this position is something like this: if Jesus gave signs in order to make man believe, firstly, this would have substituted evidence for faith, and God has decreed that He wants man’s faith, not his rationale.”[1] Mills’ reasoning echoes the consequences of holding the idea that faith and rationale are not on the same page.

In this article I attempted to argue that God wants both man’s faith and man’s rationale. Faith as used in Christianity is “trusting what we have reason to believe is true”(J. P. Moreland)

Moule On Faith As Used In Common Speech

H. C. G. Moule, in The Fundamentals, wonderfully explained what the English term “faith” means in our daily speech. He wrote, “What does Faith mean in common life and speech? Take such phrases as, to have faith in a policy, faith in a remedy, faith in a political leader, or a military leader, faith in a lawyer, faith in a physician. Here the word Faith is used in a way obviously parallel to that in which, for example, our Lord uses it when He appeals to the Apostles, in the Gospels, to have faith in Him; as He did in the storm on the Lake. The use is parallel also to its habitual use in the epistles; for example, in Romans 4, where St. Paul makes so much of Abraham’s faith, in close connection with the faith which he seeks to develop in us.”[2]

N.T. And Definition of Faith

New Testament’s definition of faith could be described as a complete trust in and loyalty to the person and work of Christ Jesus (Eph 2:8). Faith is an allegiance to Christ Jesus.( Ga 1:23) Faith is both a spiritual conviction of the things physically unseen, namely the promises of God i.e., adopting and conforming us to the image of Christ Jesus, holy and blameless before Him and a rational conviction of the work of Christ Jesus, namely God incarnated was really crucified, really died, and really rose again because if He did not our allegiance, trust, and loyalty in Christ Jesus is in vain, worthless and a delusion.

In his first known letter to the Corinthians, Paul of Tarsus wrote: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”(1 Cor. 15:12-19 ESV)

“Faith rests on what God has done in Christ for us once for all and in a universally valid way,” writes Ingolf U. Dalferth, “ and thus on God’s universal justification, whose converse that faith actually is” [3]

“Faith does not involve believing something without evidence.” argues Sean McDowell, “Rather, it is a trust in God in light of what we know to be true. Jesus healed the paralytic so the people would know that he has the authority of God (Mark 2:10).”

Faith And The Gospel According To John

In John 6: 29 we read “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” and John 20:30-31 “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” G. L. Borchert accurately concluded “[the author of John] was a great inspired artist and theologian who organized his episodes from the life of Jesus in such a way as to bring people to faith in Jesus as the Son of God.”

“Faith’s validation depends in part on the truthfulness of faiths object” D. A. Carson explained, “Faith as used in Christianity is not synonyms to religion or personal subjective religious choice not tied to truth or facts.” Moule concurs with Carson, “The virtue of Faith lies in the virtue of its Object.” The person and work of historical Jesus of Nazareth is the object of Christian faith.

Faith Is A Gift of God

Faith in Christ Jesus is a result of God’s salvation. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”(John 6:44a) No one has an ability to trust in Christ unless the Holy Spirit awakes what is foolishness to those who are perishing to the power of God as the Father draws us to the cross of His Son.

Paul of Tarsus argued, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”(Eph 2:8) Faith is a gift of God to see the power of the Cross, holding fast to its work as we abide in Christ.

So What About Hebrews 11:1,6 and 2 Corinthians 5:7

Reading the context of Hebrews 11:1,6, I discovered that faith is primarily used to designate truth, honesty, and loyalty to the character of God. The faith heroes named in Hebrews 11 knew their God. They both witnessed His mighty works and objectively experienced His presence. Thus faith is assurance in God’s trustworthiness, goodness and love (cf: Acts: 17:31)

Moule agrees with my observation of Hebrew 11. He writes ““If this[Hebrew 11:1] is a definition, properly speaking, it must negative the simple definition of Faith which we have arrived at above, namely, reliance… Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses—they all treated the hoped-for and the unseen as solid and certain because they all relied upon the faithful Promiser.”

Bob Utley echoes Moule “this[Hebrew 11:1] is not a theological definition of faith, but a picture of the practical outworking of it. The term is used twenty four times in this chapter. From the OT the primary idea is “faithfulness” or “trustworthy.” This is the opposite of apostasy. The Greek term for “faith” (pistis) is translated by three English terms: “faith,” “belief,” and “trust.” Faith is a human response to God’s faithfulness and His promise. We trust His trustworthiness, not our own. His character is the key.”[4]

Walking by faith and not by sight, in 2 Corinthians 5:7, is “a response which takes God at his word and acts upon it. Faith provides assurance of things we can only hope for and a certainty about things we cannot see.”(M. Anders)[5] Given Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor. 15:12-19, it would be false to deduce that “not by sight” meant, “without prove”.

Thomas Aquinas explained that “faith pertains to the intellect as commanded by the will, it must needs be directed, as to its end, to the objects of those virtues which perfect the will, among which is hope” and “For this reason the definition of faith includes the object of hope”. He went on to ague that “Love may be of the seen and of the unseen, of the present and of the absent. Consequently a thing to be loved is not so adapted to faith, as a thing to be hoped for, since hope is always of the absent and the unseen… Substance and evidence as included in the definition of faith, do not denote various genera of faith, nor different acts, but different relationships of one act to different objects, as is clear from what has been said.”[6]

Faith: Last Words

It my hope that I kept my promise in attempting to argue that God wants both man’s faith and man’s rationale. Faith as used in Christianity is knotted to truth of the person of Christ Jesus and fact of a risen Son of God. I will end with C. S. Lewis quotes. He said, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

How do you define faith? Could give reasons to why you define it that way? And what could be consequences of your understanding of what faith is?

Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.

—Augustine


[1] Mills, M. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record. Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.

[2] Torrey, R. A., Feinberg, C. L., & Wiersbe, W. W. Vol. 3: The Fundamentals : The famous sourcebook of foundational biblical truths (146–147). Public Domain.

[3] Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). Vol. 2: The encyclopedia of Christianity (271). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill.

[4] Utley, R. J. D. (1999). Vol. Volume 10: The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews. Study Guide Commentary Series (114). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[5] Anders, M. (1999). Vol. 8: Galatians-Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (354). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Thomas Aquinas, S., & Fathers of the English Dominican Province. (2009). Summa theologica (Complete English ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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One thought on “Faith: Biblical Christian’s Definition

  1. Prayson, Your article on the definition of faith was very interesting indeed. Thank you for sharing it with me. I have to agree with you, our thoughts on the subject run very closely together. I really appreciate the added information you have on the subject, it was a blessing to me. Lord bless you!

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