What is faith?

Faith is generally understood to be that act by which a person agrees with the statement of another.


Is faith the same thing as trust?

Not quite though the words are often used as synonyms.  Trust is a more personal word used to refer to confidence in a person.  It’s a commitment such as exists between a husband and wife.  Faith is usually associated with believing and is used in more intellectual contexts such as believing a certain teaching or philosophy to be true (or false).


Doesn’t faith also mean believing something to be true even when we cannot prove it to be so?

Yes, this is another way people understand the word; and in this sense, it is contrasted with knowledge.  We believe or have faith that the bank in which we deposited our money will not fail tomorrow.  We have no proof of this.  On the other hand, we would not say that we believe that the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 since it is something that can be proven mathematically.  Similarly, we would not say that we believe that water freezes at 32 degrees; it’s something we can prove to be true by running tests.  This does not mean, however, that faith believes in the absence of all evidence.


What is the relationship between faith and evidence?

Faith can sometimes be where there is no evidence.  A person believes something to be true regardless of the evidence for or against it.  Such beliefs are said to be unjustified beliefs.  Other beliefs that we have are justified beliefs; i.e. there is evidence for them of a greater or lesser degree.  The belief that the roof of my house will not collapse is based on a whole variety of solid evidences.  The belief that my car will start in the morning is also based on good evidence though perhaps not as strong as that regarding the roof of my house.


What does faith mean in the Bible?

We find much of this same range of meaning in the Bible’s use of this word.  Note in this verse that it was Paul’s testimony which was believed to be true by the Thessalonians.

when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed–for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)

In other cases, it is a person who is believed as when Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) and John the Baptizer

The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ (Matthew 21:25)

Most commonly, the word faith or believing is used to refer to that act by which a person is saved.  Warfield writes:

“On the ground of such a usage, we may at least re-affirm with increased confidence that the idea of ‘faith’ is conceived of in the New Testament as the characteristic idea of Christianity, and that it does not import mere ‘belief’ in an intellectual sense, but all that enters into an entire self-commitment of the soul to Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.”  See the very bottom of this page.

This is also reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith’s definition of faith.


What does the Westminster Confession teach us about faith?

In chapter 14, paragraph 2, the Confession states:

2. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

Here we see first the more intellectual definition of faith in that faith believes all the teachings which God has put in the Bible.  The Confession goes on, however, to teach that faith has its principal acts which is what faith does with the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Here the aspect of trust and commitment to a Person is more in view.


How does a person come to be a believer?

Faith is a gift of God which He sovereignly gives to those whom He has chosen in eternity past to receive it.


Where does the Bible teach this?

One instance of this is in Acts 13 where Paul is preaching in the city of Pisidian Antioch, and a great number of both Jews and gentiles came to faith in Christ.  Luke then writes:  When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)


What does Luke mean by being “appointed to eternal life”?

The construction is a periphrastic where the imperfect ἦσαν is joined with the perfect participle τεταγμένοι.  The entire is to be understood as a pluperfect which is reflected in the fact that many translations render this as “had been appointed.”  Burton calls these pluperfects “pluperfects of existing state” §91 by which he means that the action represented in the verb represents a state which existed in the past.  Decker says that the pluperfect represents a state of affairs which is more remote than that of the imperfect.  A “heightened remoteness” is the term he uses for the pluperfect.  “The imperfect is often used to sketch background information in narrative, but the pluperfect references the background of the background.” Decker, Reading Koine Greek 20.22.


Why is this information important?

It shows that the appointing [τεταγμένοι] here is not to be understood as something which took place in the story as it just happened, as Alford who understands this phrase to mean that while the Jews were indisposed to receive the gospel, the gentiles were disposed to receive it.  The pluperfect points the reader to something prior to the events in the story.


What is this appointment and when did it take place?

The text does not give us this information.  Suffice it to say that this text is surely consistent with Biblical teaching elsewhere that believers were appointed to salvation from before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)  Olshausen holds that this is a clear reference to predestination, and all attempts to evade it are “in the highest degree forced.”


What else does the Bible teach us about faith?

The Bible teaches us that faith is a gift of God.


What does this mean?

This means that when a person believes the gospel, God is the One who brings him to the point where he makes this choice.  People do not bring themselves to believe in Jesus because their will is controlled by their sinful nature.  If God did not move the person’s will to believe in Jesus, no one would ever come to faith and be saved.


Is faith the act of the person then or is it an act of God?

Faith is the act of the individual.


Where does the Bible teach that faith is the gift of God?

The author of Hebrews teaches this when he says that God is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.


What does the author mean by this expression?

This expression is used to show that our faith both originates from God and continues on because of His sustaining grace.


Are there Christians who deny that faith is a gift of God?

Yes, Geisler is one who argues against the idea that faith is a gift of God.  He writes in a comment on Acts 16:14:

One need not deny that God moves upon the hearts of unbelievers to persuade and prompt them to faith; what we deny is that God does this coercively (by irresistible grace) and that He only does it on some persons (the elect). The Holy Spirit is convicting “the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8), but God does not force anyone to believe in Him (cf. Matt. 23:37; John 5:40). While the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe, Luke does not say that He did so against her will.  Systematic Theology 3:479.


What is wrong with Geisler’s teaching here?

The question is this: why do some people believe the gospel and some do not?  What is it that finally makes the difference?  If God “opens the heart” of both elect and non-elect persons as Geisler teaches here, then why are some saved and others not?  Finally, we have to say that the individual makes the difference.  It isn’t God who decides who is saved and who lost but individuals decide this for themselves.  Since God did as much for Lydia as he did for anyone, then Lydia is the reason that Lydia was saved and not God.  This question is the dividing line between Arminian theology and Reformed theology.  There is no middle ground here; either God makes the difference or the individual does.  Ralston is a Wesleyan and has an interesting section on this in his theology.  He does finally conclude that it is accurate to say that faith is a gift of God.






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