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"What is faith?"

Dictionary definitions of faith.

The following definitions of "faith" are from CD-ROM version of the American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, ver. 3.6p (c) 1994

1. (n.) A condition in which
one is free from doubt:
  • certainty
  • assurance
  • assuredness
  • certitude
  • confidence
  • conviction
  • sureness
  • surety
  • positiveness
  • conclusiveness
  • belief
  • trust
  • presumption


  • uncertainty
  • unsureness
  • skepticism
  • doubt
2. (n.) Something one
believes or accepts as true:
  • conviction
  • belief
  • feeling
  • mind
  • opinion
  • persuasion
  • sentiment
  • view
  • tenet
  • creed
  • doctrine
3. (n.) Certainty in another's trustworthiness:
  • trust
  • belief
  • confidence
  • reliance
  • credence
  • certitude
  • conviction
  • dependence


  • mistrust
  • doubt
  • disbelief
4. (n.) A religious belief or set of beliefs:
  • doctrine
  • conviction
  • credo
  • creed
  • dogma
  • gospel
  • precept
  • teaching
  • tenet
  • theology
5. (n.) A system of belief, principles, or opinions:
  • creed
  • dogma
  • religion
  • philosophy
  • doctrine
  • credo
  • canons
  • gospel
6. (n.) Acceptance as true or valid:
  • credence
  • belief
  • credit
  • trust
  • confidence
  • assurance
  • reliance
  • certitude

Biblical definition of faith.

The classic biblical definition of "faith" is found at Hebrews 11:1:

[King James Version, New KJV] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

[American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version] Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.

[The Living Bible] What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Note: The Living Bible is a paraphrase of the Bible.)

[New International Version] Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

The following is from Easton's Topical Bible: (NIV Bible text added)

("What is a topical Bible?"  See Topical Bibles )


Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true (Philippians 1:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests.

Philippians 1:27-28 [27] Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel [28] without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Faith is the result of teaching (Romans 10:14-17).

Romans 10:14-17 [14] How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? [15] And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" [16] But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" [17] Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Knowledge is an essential element in all faith, and is sometimes spoken of as an equivalent to faith (John 10:38; 1 John 2:3).

John 10:37-38 [37] Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. [38] But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.

Yet the two are distinguished in this respect, that faith includes in it assent, which is an act of the will in addition to the act of the understanding. Assent to the truth is of the essence of faith, and the ultimate ground on which our assent to any revealed truth rests is the veracity of God.

Historical faith is the apprehension of and assent to certain statements which are regarded as mere facts of history.

Temporary faith is that state of mind which is awakened in men (e.g., Felix) by the exhibition of the truth and by the influence of religious sympathy, or by what is sometimes styled the common operation of the Holy Spirit.

[Webmaster's note: Felix was a Roman governor whom Paul witnessed to when he was in prison.  See Acts 23:24 through Acts 25:14.]

Saving faith is so called because it has eternal life inseparably connected with it. It cannot be better defined than in the words of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism: "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel."

The object of saving faith is the whole revealed Word of God. Faith accepts and believes it as the very truth most sure. But the special act of faith which unites to Christ has as its object the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 7:38; Acts 16:31).

John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.

Acts 16:31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."

This is the specific act of faith by which a sinner is justified before God (Romans 3:22, 25; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9; John 3:16-36; Acts 10:43; 16:31). In this act of faith the believer appropriates and rests on Christ alone as Mediator in all his offices.

Romans 3:22a This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Romans 3:25a God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Galatians 2:15-16 [15] "We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners' [16] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Philippians 3:8-9 [8] What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

John 3:16-21, 26-28, 30-36 [16] "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. [19] This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. [20] Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. [21] But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." [26] They came to John [the Baptist] and said to him, "Rabbi, that man [Jesus] who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." [27] To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. [28] You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' [30] He must become greater; I must become less. [31] "The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. [32] He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. [33] The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. [34] For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. [35] The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

This assent to or belief in the truth received upon the divine testimony has always associated with it a deep sense of sin, a distinct view of Christ, a consenting will, and a loving heart, together with a reliance on, a trusting in, or resting in Christ. It is that state of mind in which a poor sinner, conscious of his sin, flees from his guilty self to Christ his Saviour, and rolls over the burden of all his sins on him. It consists chiefly, not in the assent given to the testimony of God in his Word, but in embracing with fiducial reliance and trust the one and only Saviour whom God reveals. This trust and reliance is of the essence of faith. By faith the believer directly and immediately appropriates Christ as his own. Faith in its direct act makes Christ ours. It is not a work which God graciously accepts instead of perfect obedience, but is only the hand by which we take hold of the person and work of our Redeemer as the only ground of our salvation.

Saving faith is a moral act, as it proceeds from a renewed will, and a renewed will is necessary to believing assent to the truth of God (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

1 Corinthians 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Faith, therefore, has its seat in the moral part of our nature fully as much as in the intellectual. The mind must first be enlightened by divine teaching (John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17, 18) before it can discern the things of the Spirit.

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Ephesians 1:17-19a  [17] I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. [18] I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [19] and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Faith is necessary to our salvation (Mark 16:16), not because there is any merit in it, but simply because it is the sinner's taking the place assigned him by God, his falling in with what God is doing.

Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The warrant or ground of faith is the divine testimony, not the reasonableness of what God says, but the simple fact that he says it. Faith rests immediately on, "Thus saith the Lord." But in order to this faith the veracity, sincerity, and truth of God must be owned and appreciated, together with his unchangeableness. God's word encourages and emboldens the sinner personally to transact with Christ as God's gift, to close with him, embrace him, give himself to Christ, and take Christ as his. That word comes with power, for it is the word of God who has revealed himself in his works, and especially in the cross. God is to be believed for his word's sake, but also for his name's sake.

Faith in Christ secures for the believer freedom from condemnation, or justification before God; a participation in the life that is in Christ, the divine life (John 14:19; Romans 6:4-10; Ephesians 4:15,16, etc.); "peace with God" (Romans 5:1); and sanctification (Acts 26:18; Galatians 5:6; Acts 15:9).

John 14:19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

Romans 6:4-10 [4] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. [5] If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. [6] For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- [7] because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. [8] Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. [10] The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Ephesians 4:15-16 [15] Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. [16] From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

All who thus believe in Christ will certainly be saved (John 6:37, 40; 10:27, 28; Romans 8:1).

John 6:37, 40 [37] All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. [40] For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 10:27-28 [27] My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Romans 8:1-2 [1] Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, [2] because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

The faith=the gospel (Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:9; Jude 1:3).

Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Romans 1:5 Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

Galatians 1:23 They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy."

1 Timothy 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

"Isn't faith really just a crutch?"

If what you  believe ... Crutch Not
can be proved true   X
can be proved false * X  
1. has been investigated and
2. has no supporting evidence and
3. there is no reasonable basis for believing it
1. has been investigated


(a) has some supporting evidence


(b) there is some reasonable basis for belief

has not been reasonably investigated X  

* "Why would someone believe something that can be proved false?"

Everyone has a 'world view'.  If a person's world view is strong enough, s/he will simply refuse to believe anything that contradicts that world view.

Common examples are:

  1. the person whose child, parent, or spouse has been convicted of a horrible crime such as a brutal rape or murder and the person simply refuses to believe the criminal is guilty, even when the evidence is overwhelming.

  2. the boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse who refuses to believe their mate has been unfaithful, despite obvious signs and personal testimony of reliable eyewitnesses

Remember: faith can be part crutch and part not crutch!

When a person has faith, particularly religious faith, he doesn't simply believe one thing.  For instance, if the total of your religious faith is just "Jesus is God", you believe (a) Jesus exists, (b) God exists, (c) Jesus is God.

Many people have a faith that is partly based on fact and partly based on the way they would like things to be.  Thus, their faith is part truth and part crutch.

This is common in Christians.  Many Christians say they believe Jesus is God and God never lies, both of which are supported by the Bible.  They then go on to say "I just can't believe that God would condemn anyone to eternal punishment.  I just can't believe that."  There is simply no basis for their belief in universalism (the heresy which teaches that everyone will be saved). They are trying to force God's plan to fit their world view.  When it doesn't fit, they reject the part(s) they don't like.  Their faith in universalism is a crutch, although their faith in God is not a crutch.

"Does it really matter whether I believe in the God of the Bible as long as I believe in a Supreme Being?"

See God hates false gods.

"Does it matter whether I have faith?"

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

"How does faith come about?"

Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

It is important to understand that most people do not accept the Gospel the first time they hear it. But studying the Bible, discussing it with others, and reading about the Bible can help.

Many people don't believe the Bible because they think it is just set of old legends with no real evidence.  They have never been shown that there are logical reasons to believe the Bible is true: 

Faith is not a mere intellectual belief.  Faith without works is dead.

James 2:14-23 [14] What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? [15] Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. [16] If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? [17] In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. [18] But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. [19] You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. [20] You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? [21] Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? [22] You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. [23] And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God [and demonstrated it by actions], and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.

Belief is not the same as saving faith.  Saving faith requires actions to back it up.  I believe 2 + 2 = 4, but it doesn't require me to do anything.  God always requires us to do something to demonstrate our faith.


(c) 1998 by Rick Reinckens

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