One of the most important words in the Bible is the word faith. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is needed to have eternal life (John 3:16). And God repeats this notable verse four times in the Bible: “The just [or, righteous person] shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Faith is life-giving. But what is faith?
Faith can be defined as the confident belief that something is true. Sometimes people use the word faith to mean that they hope something is true but are not certain that it is. This is not what faith means in the Bible. Biblical faith is the conviction, the confidence, the persuasion that God’s Word is true. There are some cautions about biblical faith to consider and define for ourselves:
Faith is not a feeling—rather, it is a conviction.
Faith is not an attitude that is apart from evidence—rather, it is intelligent persuasion.
Faith is not positive thinking—rather, it is confidence in God’s promises.
Faith does not overlook duties—it loves and obeys God.
Christian faith has two great objects in which absolute trust is placed. First, faith believes in God’s Word, because faith is the belief of a testimony. Therefore, Christian faith is belief in God’s testimony. And faith confidently relies upon that testimony in life. We don’t want to be swept away by the circumstances that we face in this world during our lives. As Christians we desire faith to overcome the paralyzing power of fear in our reactions to situations we face.
Second, faith believes in God. Faith believes that God is who He has revealed Himself to be. Our conception of God needs to be more than a vague idea of a “supreme being.” The true God of salvation cannot be removed from His attributes that are revealed about Him in the Bible. What comes to our minds when we think of God is primary to faith. Though we cannot fully comprehend God, we can learn of His character as we study the Bible. He is revealed as self-existent, holy, faithful, sovereign, and good, among many other attributes.
Belief about the true character of God needs to be part of our faith at the time of conversion, if we are to maintain a faith that guards against forgetting God and backsliding. We need to come to God, realizing our lost condition and our total need for His saving grace. It would be useless to call out for salvation and help to someone in whom we do not trust.
When our children were young they learned the song, “My God is so Big,” which speaks of God’s sovereignty and power. We wanted the truth of these words to be established in their hearts and in ours.
How do we acquire faith? Romans 10:14 asks, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” The Bible gives us a clear and powerful answer in verse 17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If God has said it, we can absolutely rest on it with unwavering confidence. Yes, we can build our faith upon God’s testimony.
Let us take a closer look at the description of faith in Hebrews 11. We see a description of faith that pleases God in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We will study this verse to better understand faith.
1. Faith Believes that God Exists
Believing that God exists is a starting point of faith. Many are not interested. Some want to push aside any accountability to God so they can live the way they please. Sadly, when suddenly something threatens their plans or their lives or the lives of their loved ones, they want God to come through and help them. If we are truly wise, we will humble ourselves and take the reality of God’s existence as truth before that day happens. We can then come to Him in confidence that He hears our prayer. God gives us much evidence that He is a God we can “come to” and “diligently seek.”
a. Design and complexity in creation
The first evidence in Hebrews 11 that builds our faith is the creative power of God: “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” (Hebrews 11:3). This teaching is foundational to our faith. The detailed, complex designs within humans, plants, and animals are a clear indication of God’s creativity. He is the Designer!
We look at the stars and planets, all in precise orbits, with the constellations. This is evidence of our designer God. Ancient men could reach their destination by relying on the placement of the stars. With our knowledge of space exploration today, we realize there would be no success in landing a spacecraft at a certain point if God had not designed the orbits of the planets. Their exact placement at a set time can be calculated with detailed accuracy because the Bible tells us that the heavens and the earth “are kept” by the word of God (2 Peter 3:5-7).
The oceans made by God are an amazing thermostat. It takes a large loss of heat for water to turn to ice and a large intake of heat for water to turn to steam. In this way oceans are a cushion against the heat of the sun and the freezing blast of winter temperatures.
“The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:5b-9)
We need to have reverential trust, turning away from all that displeases God and accepting Him as the master Designer.
b. The uncaused Cause
Another evidence for the existence of God is the law of cause and effect. Every effect in this world has a cause. Going farther and farther back will eventually bring you to an uncaused Cause, the First Cause of all things. That Cause is God, who is self-existent!
Hebrews 3:4 affirms this scientific law: “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.” Wise men and women will humble themselves and consider the existence of God.
c. Man is created in God’s image
Romans 1:20 indicates that those who deny God as Creator will be without excuse: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” Though men cannot see God, they know He exists.
God honored mankind above all other beings by creating men and women in His own image, with an innate knowledge of Him (Romans 1:19, 2:15). How could the many things of beauty around us that we see and enjoy have evolved? What would the world be like if it were created by someone who did not understand us? The characteristics and spirit of man show we are not a product of evolution, but of a Creator.
2. Faith Diligently Seeks God
Hebrews 11:6 implores us to diligently seek God: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Faith is the result of an awakening by the Holy Spirit. However, we see in this verse that faith involves diligent work on our part also.
a. Seek God with conviction
Without a conviction of the reality of God, we cannot have hope in this life to prepare for the life hereafter. We must first accept who He is and then ask what He expects of us!
We cannot have a solid faith on anything we aren’t sure of. John Paton translated the word faith to the people he was ministering to in the South Pacific Islands as “resting all of one’s weight on God.” Truly our faith can rest on solid evidence when we accept God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gives us a further witness in our heart that God is real.
When we buy a property we need to check whether there are liens against the property. God as Creator has the title deed to the earth. There are no liens against this property. God is sovereign and when He says something we can count on it to be true! In Revelation 5:1-5, Jesus was found worthy to open the book, the “title deed” to all the earth. Someday, He will reign over all the earth (Revelation 11:15).
Reading the accounts of the men and women of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 gives insight into God’s definition of faith. The evidence of God’s power was not always visible to them, but they believed in it. These heroes of faith acted in obedience to God’s instructions because they were convinced of God’s existence. They were convinced of His power to reward. One way our faith can be increased is by reading their stories in the Bible, along with God’s analysis of their actions in Hebrews 11. Their actions of faith are clearly noted. They become models of faith to us.
b. Seek God with diligence
Possibly we can give ourselves a quiz regarding diligent seeking. How many minutes do I read my Bible each day? God wants us to be firmly persuaded. Can we be firmly persuaded if we are not spending adequate time in Bible reading daily? God has given us a revelation of Himself through the Old Testament prophets, through the life and example of Jesus, and through New Testament Scripture.
Some have suggested that an excellent way to increase our faith is to have a notebook and write the answer to the question, who was Jesus? as we read each chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. Similar notes can be taken as well while reading the other Gospels and asking ourselves, what did Jesus promise in this passage? and, to whom were the promises given?
c. Seek God in the right way
God commends the faith of Abel (Hebrews 11:4). We know from Genesis chapter 4 that Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Because Scripture speaks of them offering a sacrifice we know that they had a place of worship. Abel’s offering was accepted by God and Cain’s offering was not. This account implies that God had made known to human creation the right way to approach Him. True faith is evidenced by obedience to God’s Word in our worship. We don’t know all the details of how they were instructed to sacrifice. But we can observe that when God made coats of animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve, blood was shed.
God testified that Abel had sacrificed by faith and was righteous. We must remember that both Cain and Abel had a sin nature. Calling Abel righteous wasn’t based on his good qualities, but on his obedient faith. Some suggest that here is where all false religions start—by trying to come to God in another way different from the way God requires. When we “lean on our own understanding” rather than the instructions of God’s Word, we cannot produce true faith.
d. Seek God by following His plan
What does Hebrews 11:6 imply that we are to seek when it says to “diligently seek him”? It is to learn His character and His purposes for us as His creation, and to respond to His longing to have a relationship with us. Enoch’s faith is an example of what God expects: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5).
In order for Enoch to please God, he too must have familiarized himself with God’s plan. Behind all the examples of faith we need to look for the relationship between believing God and doing what He requires. Enoch knew that he was answerable to God personally, and so he followed (walked with) God’s plan. “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him,” Genesis 5:24 tells us.
We cannot truly walk with God like we should if we are not learning from Him. When we follow God’s revealed will, it can also be said of us, “He pleased God.” Walking with God implies faithful living that does not overlook duties that God asks of us.
Enoch preached to the ungodly people among whom he lived saying, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment.” The people spoke harshly against the Lord according to Jude verses 14 and 15. This suggests it was not a pleasant environment for Enoch. Here we make note that faith does not always please people. It isn’t doing what seems right in our own eyes. This is the way of false religions. True faith produces an obedient walk.
Then, we are told, Enoch was “translated.” In other words, God took him up to Heaven. It appears he did not die. Humanly speaking, we might say he walked close with God and one day God said, “Just come with me.”
Trusting and submitting to God’s plan can produce a convincing testimony of faith to others. Christiana Tsai was a Chinese Christian who was confined to her room because of illness for many years. But despite that, she was able to be an effective ambassador for Christ to Chinese students and professionals. Christiana Tsai followed God’s plan even though there were obstacles and many unpleasant physical situations.
She has shared one of many experiences that motivated her to continue her ministry after her illness. One day on one of her voyages back to China the passengers were startled to hear a loud crash. Upon going to the deck they learned that the bow of the ship had struck something in the heavy fog. The sailors feared not being able to see where to direct the life boats with fog so thick. People were crying. Adding to the obvious danger, a strong storm soon blew upon them. But to their surprise, it was the storm that actually saved them. It caused the fog to lift and they could see clearly! The ship had become wedged between two precipices. The sailors worked to plug the gaping hole and the ship was able to back out slowly. Christiana’s testimony was that, as we trust God in life’s storms, we receive help to see God more clearly.
3. Faith Believes in God’s Ability to Reward
The rewards for those who believe are found throughout the Bible. These rewards are not merited or earned, but rather they are the promises that God graciously gives to those who trust Him. Our walk of faith does not earn a place in Heaven for us, but it shows that our faith is authentic.
We desire a faith that assures us that we will receive what we hope for. Scripture contains many examples of people who received the promises God gave to them. As we study the heroes in Hebrews 11, we find that their trials are comparable to those faced in every generation. And when we face trials like them, we can have assurance and confidence that God’s promises to us will also be fulfilled in His own timing. We can eagerly expect the reward (Hebrews 11:26). What are the rewards?
a. Eternal life
God promises eternal life to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. God is ready and willing to meet us as needy people when we are ready to forsake all other gods. God asks us to accept Jesus as the Mediator of the new covenant between God and us. Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the salvation of our souls. As we search out this new covenant, and count the cost of following Jesus, we see “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He leads and perfects our faith.
b. Grace to live
Grace to live is another reward of faith. Christians are encouraged to labor in true faith. God assures us of His very own presence in the person of the Holy Spirit to be with us each day. The Holy Spirit’s power helps meet both our physical and spiritual needs. Through the Holy Spirit we are assured that God hears and answers our prayers. Read the comfort of Hebrews 10:35-36. His hand is outstretched in love to us and we are to labor to enter into His love.
Though there are many hard situations in life, when we turn to the book of Revelation we see Heaven, the future place of rest, our future reward. We need not focus on all that is wrong in our world. Colossians 3:24 tells us, “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Our eyes look up in confidence knowing that God has provided a way to redeem us and bring us into fellowship with Himself.
You and I must believe what God has said. We live in faith because we are convinced of the reality of God’s existence, the majesty of His character, and His ability to reward. Then we can confidently rest and say as the psalmist said, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust [put my faith]” Psalm 91:1-2.