The Theology of Faith9 min read
The concept of faith is quite extensively dealt with in Scripture with various examples, exhortations, and elaborations centering around a fuller understanding of its place in our lives. A book could easily be written on the subject, and indeed many have been. For our purposes, however, we will have to be limited to a basic, yet comprehensive overview of the material at hand.
The Senses of the Word “Faith”
Scripture actually contains three essential aspects of faith, all of which have the Greek word pistis or pistos as their root. The basic sense of these words is simply “conviction of the truth of anything, belief” according to Thayer. The key phrase is the testimony of God, because that is really the only true basis for faith.
- “Faith” is a confidence in the testimony of God. Romans 4:20 gives the idea behind this: “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Notice that the key here is the promise of God and Abraham’s response to it. This really starts on the basis of entrusting one’s self to God’s Person. Thus we are presented with a balance between proof and mystery: faith that is neither blind nor knowing all the implications of its future. On the one hand, we have God’s greatness seen through His testimonies, which gives us substance to believe. On the other hand, God’s testimonies do not predict every episode of our lives or every result of His will, in which case we are somewhat blind as to what will happen. Nevertheless, we press on in our journey, because we know He has been faithful and thus will continue to be.
- “The Faith” is the body of God’s testimony to which believers are called. This concept is actually a sort of two-sided coin. In one way “the faith” is that in which we automatically take part through salvation: we are thus part of or in the faith. But in another way “the faith” is that which we are called to guard in the sense that it is the embodiment of true Christianity: “it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
- “Faithfulness” is the guarding and keeping of God’s testimonies with consistency and endurance, the character of which is the basis of trustworthiness. 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 1 Corinthians 4:2 “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” With these verses, we need to understand that when one is faithful he must be full of faith. If a man is to be responsible with what God has given him, it will be on this basis: God’s Word is true. A man will not uphold Scripture if he does not believe it to be true. A man will not be faithful in service if he believes there is a chance that his reward is but a lie. Faithfulness will always be on the basis of faith. It is really just the outward expression of inward confidence in God. When we are confident in God, we will be confident in the rewards of obedience and the consequences of rebellion. That will make us an obedient people. Thus people are able to have confidence in us, because they know we will not take lightly what is put into our care.
Now the question is, what kind of faith is Galatians 5 speaking about? Is it “faith,” “the faith,” or “faithfulness”? Actually, this is a non-question, because the answer is yes. Where there is confidence in God’s testimony, there are all three. It is similar to the Trinity: just as we can distinguish Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while not separating their essence, so we can distinguish the types of faith, but not the substance of them. Thus when we think of faith as a spiritual fruit, we begin with confidence in God’s testimony and leave the various applications with the reader. It is not unreasonable to say that the Spirit works all three aspects in our lives: He gives us confidence in God, He brings us into the truth, and He makes us trustworthy in our character. There is no need to split hairs over which sense He specifically works in us, because all are intertwined.
The Scripture of “Faith”
Hebrews 11 is of course our main Scripture for the concept of faith. It divides nicely in this way:
- The Definition of True Faith – 1-3
- Examples of True Faith – 4-38
- Faith as an Expression of Trust in light of God’s Promises– 4-16
- Faith as an Expresion of Undivided Obedience and Worship – 17-40
Firstly, then, we ask ourselves “What does God define faith as?” Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The key concepts here are sight, future, understanding, and the Word of God. These are the main elements of faith. Faith does not rely on sight, for one cannot see that which is future. It must have a deeper understanding that goes beyond the physical and the senses: it must have light from Scripture. If the Word of God was powerful enough to create, surely it is reliable enough to trust.
This was perfectly exemplified in the fathers of Israeli history, which the Hebrew writer proceeds to examine. What characterized them? Well, faith. They, though not learned theologians, knew that their God was the living God and thus the God of faithfulness. In reality, they were ultimately content with Who God was, not merely what He offered them. Abel died on account of his faith, because he so enjoyed pleasing his God. With Enoch, it was his communion life that led to his translation into heaven. With Abraham, though he had no idea where he was headed, was content to trust God’s Person. He never did get to see his descendants be as the sand of the sea, but circumstances were not his gauge of God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness was the gauge of his circumstances. Why were they able to be consistent in spite of wavering situations? Because their eyes were fixed on an unwavering reality: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
Then we see from Moses another example of faith: the extremely practical expression of it. “By faith Moses… refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt… he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Faith is only true if it expresses obedience. If one truly lives “as seeing Him Who is invisible” he will live in godly fear and thus in fervent service. We will have personal tests between us and God, but the time will come when our separation from the world will be tested. Will our faith be so shallow that it only claims to love God while not showing allegiance to Him? Is the reproach of Christ our greatest treasure? True faith sees God’s faithfulness in the midst of persecution and temptation to defect. True faith sees the value of unlimited obedience. Allegiance to God always includes a risk; faith sees this risk as an adventure in which God will show Himself to be our greatest joy. In the past, there have been great victories, and there have been great tragedies. Regardless of which comes our way, is God enough for us?
Now we are left with a challenge: what will be the character of our lives? Will it be defection? Or will we realize that there is more to life than simple circumstances? Is not a heavenly city worth more than the so-called “riches” of the world? What confidence can they offer? We need Biblical faith based on Biblical promises. What does Scripture say?
The Promises and Basis of Faith
Deuteronomy 7:9 – “Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;” Psalm 31:23 – “O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer”. Proverbs 28:20 – “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” Lamentations 3:23 – “[Thy mercies] are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” 2 Timothy 2:13 – “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”
The Calling to Faith
1 Corinthians 16:13 – “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” 1 Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
The Standard of Faith
2 Chronicles 19:9 – “And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart.” Proverbs 11:13 – “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” Proverbs 25:19 – “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” James 1:6 – “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
Our conclusion to these truths must demand a response. In the words of Oswald Chambers “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading.” The question before us is one of focus and satisfaction. Are we content with our God Who says “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”? Or is it somehow that the promises of the world are more appealing, despite the fact that they have always proven to be vain? It helps to trust God the first time. A life of faith is never wasted. Let us then be trusting, steadfast in “the faith,” and “faithful” as stewards in light of what God has given us – whether it be His promises, His commands, or His blessings.