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What Is Faith?

Faith is at the very center of the life of a disciple of Christ. The declaration that one believes in Jesus begins in faith. Still, for someone new to walking with God, the whole concept of faith can still sound foreign. This article looks at faith in order to help you understand more about this essential in your daily walk.

Hebrews 11 says that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” That puts a premium on having faith. Indeed, scripture goes further and states that those who are righteous live by faith (Galatians 2). To attempt to walk with God without faith is like trying to survive underwater without oxygen. It’s not just a bad idea, it’s impossible!

In looking at what faith is, perhaps it would be helpful to look first at a few things that faith is not. This can separate the myth from the reality regarding faith.

Faith is not a feeling. It is important to realize this because so much of our lives are spent living and making decisions based upon how we feel. Once we reach a certain level of maturity as a person, we understand that there are many things that you can — and must do whether you feel like it or not. Don’t forget that when it comes time to walk by faith. There will be plenty of times that you will not feel as if you have any faith. There will be times when you may feel that God has abandoned you or that you have no hope or future. But faith is not based on your feelings anymore than the color of your eyes is based on your feeling.

Faith is not the attitude of “what will be will be.” Some people mistakenly pray to God in a way that ignores His willingness to act in our behalf IF WE WILL ONLY ASK. Instead, they pray prayers like this, “Oh, God, IF it be your will, let this happen. But since I know it probably won’t, please help me to have an accepting heart to what your will is.” Or worse, some people don’t even throw in the first part of the prayer. They just go around praying for patience to accept everything that comes their way. Patience is a virtue, and accepting God’s will is mandatory. But not everything that happens in your life that is passed off as God’s will really is His will. If you spend some time examining the prayers of both the Old and New Testament believers, you will find that they asked God to DO something in their behalf, something that would not have occurred had they not asked and had God not answered. That is certainly worlds apart from, “What will be will be.”

Faith is not a generalized hope in “something.” Occasionally you will meet someone who has a very nebulous belief that there is something, somewhere that may or may not result in good occasionally happening to this old planet we live on. When pressed to give an answer as to why or what they believe in, there really are no specifics. Yet the person will emphasize the importance of the fact that they “have faith” either in the goodness of man or the goodness of the universe or something else equally vague. As we will see soon, true faith has a specific object.

Faith is not something that is worked up by mental exercises or verbal repetition. Maybe you have been led to believe this. Or maybe you have found yourself participating in this. I’ve seen it. People repeating over and over and over a scripture or a phrase or a song or anything spiritual sounding in order to somehow produce faith. At times it sounds more like they are trying to convince themselves that they really do believe. I wish people were simply more honest and would admit when they have about as much faith as an egg has hair. When we are honest, God can help us along, but when we are so caught up in trying to manufacture what we need to please Him, we forget that God has always given to humans what they need in order to please Him — including faith.

So, after looking at what faith is not, the question still remains, “What is faith?” There are a lot of definitions out there. Here is one that describes at least part of the answer. “Faith is an individual response to the goodness of God, and faith is choosing to believe in God’s goodness rather than the circumstances that surround you.”

One has to understand this in order to really grasp the power of faith. Notice that faith does not begin with us. It is a response to the goodness of God. When God breaks into your world and finds you lost in sin, your choice is to accept or reject Him as your Lord and Savior. If you choose to accept, your response to His love is born out of faith. Faith is connecting with God based upon what He is trying to reveal to you about Himself. The people who came to Jesus didn’t fully understand Him. But they saw that He was compassionate toward the sick and the hurting, and they flocked to Him with their needs. They responded to the goodness of God by trying to get closer to Him.

Also, notice that faith is a choice. As we noted earlier, faith is definitely not a feeling. When circumstances come against you, you will not feel very full of faith perhaps. But your choice still remains: will I believe in the goodness of God, or will I believe in the badness of my circumstances? What choice you make truly determines your actions, your words and your witness. That is why the jump-starting of faith that some people try does not work. Some people think that their words will determine their faith. Not so. Jesus stated that out of the abundance of your heart, your mouth will speak out words. Words of fear, uncertainty and doubt don’t make you afraid. Rather, they reveal a heart that has chosen to believe more in the badness of the circumstance rather than in the goodness of God.

Having defined faith, let’s look at a few more notes on faith. The first is that faith does not have to be perfect in order to work. That’s good to know. Because of our imperfections, there is no point in waiting until our faith is perfect before coming to God. Believe as much as you can about God, and then ask Him to reveal more. The Bible speaks of going from faith to faith, and it also speaks of growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The more He reveals Himself to you, the more you can respond to His goodness and learn about Him.

One example of this truth is the father who brought his demonized son to the disciples to cure. Jesus was not there. He was up in the mountain being transfigured before Peter, James and John. The disciples could not cast the demon out. The father was saddened, frustrated and confused. When Jesus showed up on the scene, the father expressed his feelings to Jesus. His words showed his disappointment, “IF you can do anything, help us!” Jesus’ response was automatic, “IF you can? Believe! All things are possible to the one who believes.” The father responded, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!” His recent disappointment at the disciples’ failure certainly clouded his heart with fear, uncertainty and doubt, but his initial reason for even bringing his son to Jesus was because he really did believe that Jesus could do something about it. Did Jesus tell him to wait until he got his faith sorted out and perfected before coming back? No! Jesus responded out of compassion and at once aided and rewarded the man’s faith by healing his son.

Next, faith always has an object, the true focus of which should be Jesus. For a lot of people, the good part of their lives will be spent in generic life circumstances without having very many truly dire situations arise. This is unfortunate in one respect. It makes it so much easier to focus our attention and our choice of whom or what to believe on the supporting aspects of our lives. Whether our jobs, our families or our friends, we can begin to look at these with a degree of faith in them, as if they are our source for life, health and peace.

When dire circumstances arise, it can help snap us out of this sleep back into the reality that Jesus is the true and only object of our faith. Remember Peter when he walked upon the water to Jesus. He began to focus on the waves and the wind, and he immediately began to sink. Here was a dire situation if ever there was one. There was no time to request counsel from friends. His years on the job as a fisherman only served to accentuate his awareness that he was about to die. His family was probably a long way off at that time. No, he only had one hope: Jesus! “Save me, Lord, I’m perishing!” was his desperate cry to Jesus. Likewise, may we focus our attention on Jesus even when things are not dire in order that we may grow in faith every day.

Faith is also persistent. Once a gentile, a Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus for help for her daughter. Jesus seemingly ignored the lady. That would put a lot of people off, and with hurt feelings they would retreat. But this lady didn’t have time for hurt feelings. She loved her daughter too much to let personal feelings get in the way of her attempt to secure what she desired. She persisted. Jesus then answered her in what seemed like a rough and prejudiced fashion when he said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.” Boy, how many of us would have left hurt at a reply like that? Not this woman. She acknowledged that she had no special claim on God’s grace like one of the people of the covenant. She knew she was not a Jew. Yet, she was responding to what she knew of the goodness of God when she said, “That is true, Master, but even the little dogs get some of the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.” Wow. You can almost see Jesus pumping His fist and shouting, “Yes!” This woman is one of a couple mentioned in the New Testament who Jesus explicitly states has “great faith.” Her great faith persisted beyond personal feelings, perceived insults and pressed through to receive what she wanted God to do in her behalf.

So, in your daily walk with God, make your choice to believe that God is good. Make your choice to respond to Him by getting closer to Him. God really does have all the answers for your life, and He wants to lead you down the right path. You can follow Him, too. Just respond to Him daily in faith.

Be blessed.

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