A visitor on our website named Grace submitted several good questions about faith (e.g. what is it? where does it come from? how do we get it?) The very nature of faith is extremely important to understand, especially because we are told that no one can please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). In a general sense, everyone has faith in all kinds of things. For instance, riding in a vehicle, flying in an airplane, or walking across a busy street when you have a pedestrian green light requires considerable faith in the skills of others. But more specifically, let’s consider the nature of biblical faith.
Properly understanding “faith” is vitally important in the Christian life, especially if one is to defend it or even question it. In American culture, many people seem to associate the word “faith” with the idea of “blind faith.” This concept is not new. Mark Twain famously opened the twelfth chapter of his book Following the Equator by declaring that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Such a definition, however, does not apply to the way faith is described in the Bible. While faith does involve a measure of trust without having complete knowledge, the type of faith God wants us to have is reasonable faith. That is, despite the fact that we will not have all of our questions answered completely, God does reveal Himself enough for us to put our confidence in Him.
When we find the English word “faith” in the New Testament, the Greek word that is translated as faith is often pistis. This word appears 243 times in the New Testament. The word pistis has the idea of “persuasion” or “confidence” or “trust.” Far from “blind faith” or “believing what you know ain’t so,” having pistis means having a firm confidence and conviction that what you believe is true. When a person chooses a heart surgeon and agrees to go under the knife, he must put his confidence and trust in that surgeon based on what he knows about the surgeon. Pistis means having this kind of trust. The author of Hebrews says that faith (pistis) is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We are to “contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3) and “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor 16:13). So faith and reason are meant to go together. We should not think that we use our reason to have confidence and conviction about some things (like scientific claims), but when it comes to Christianity we cannot have confidence or conviction but must resort to mere faith.
Now if faith in God means putting our confident trust in Him, that rightly brings us to a critical part of the question: How do we get faith, and where does faith come from? Does God create faith in us, or do we find it ourselves? It is important to know that Christians disagree on this question. Calvinists believe that God alone makes it possible for a person to have faith. Calvinism holds that a person cannot and will not place faith in Christ unless God specifically elects (or chooses) that person and gives him or her the gift of faith. On the other hand, other Christians (e.g., those who accept Arminianism or Molinism) hold that God draws us to Himself, but each person has the ability to accept or reject Christ and must make the choice for himself. Nevertheless, in either case (whether God alone gives us the ability to have faith or whether it is a combination of God drawing us to Himself and us choosing to place faith in Christ), all Christians can agree that one must have faith in Christ.
God wants us to put our confidence and trust in Him. The object of proper biblical faith is ultimately a person, not a book or a belief system. This involves a conscious decision that requires some knowledge of God. In order for us to have faith (trust, confidence) in God, we must first believe “that He is” (Heb 11:6). But merely believing in God is not enough and does not constitute complete faith (James 2:19). It is, however, a necessary first step. In the same way, we may acquire factual information about a surgeon, but that does not mean that we have put our confidence and trust him. However, it is a necessary step in doing so. With God, we can learn about Him through His creation (Rom 1:18-20), through the moral law He has written into our conscience (Rom 2:12-16), through the specific details He has revealed about Himself in the Bible (2 Tim 3:16-17), and through the personal way that the Holy Spirit works on and in our heart (Jn 6:44; 14:16-17, 25-26; Rom 8:14-17). Once we believe “that He is,” based on a number of good considerations, we must also trust Him—by believing that “He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Such faith is: (1) rooted in the knowledge of God; (2) dependent upon God drawing us to Himself; and (3) directed specifically at God as the One who is worthy of our trust.
-Zach Breitenbach, Director of the Worldview Center at Connection Pointe in Brownsburg, IN and the former Associate Director of Room For Doubt