Lesson 2: What Is Faith?
The Bible says that without faith we can't please God and that the goal of our faith is salvation. God wants us to have living faith so we can grow in our relationship with Him. So what is faith, and how do we receive it and grow in it?
Acts 8 tells the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, a high official under
Queen Candace, who was confused by what he was reading in the book of
Isaiah. He believed the Bible and strove to follow God's way, but he
didn't yet understand about Jesus Christ. God sent Philip to explain
more of God's truth to him and to help him take the next steps in his
relationship with God.
After reading the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:7-8, the Ethiopian
official asked Philip, "'I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this,
of himself or of some other man?'
"Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached
Jesus to him.
"Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch
said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?'
"Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And
he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God'"
The Ethiopian eunuch demonstrated his belief—his faith—in our Savior Jesus Christ
and was ready for the next step in his growing relationship with God.
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What Is Faith?
Faith is an essential part of our relationship with God. It is a prerequisite
to beginning the conversion process, which is a necessary step on the
road to salvation and eternal life.
Without faith we can't please God (Hebrews 11:6), essentially because
if we don't believe in Him and believe Him, we won't really be trying
to please Him! In the New Testament, both faith and belief are
generally translations of the Greek word pistis. People who live
by faith as followers of Jesus Christ are called "believers" (Acts 5:14).
"The main sense of the word 'faith' in the NT is that of trust or reliance...
[Pistis] bears the sense not of faithfulness alone, but of the
reliance and trust that is the basis of man's faithfulness, i.e., the
faithfulness that expresses confidence in the faithfulness of God" (International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 1982, article, "Faith").
How does the Bible describe faith?
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things
Faith goes beyond what we can perceive with our physical senses, so it
does not work by the rules of science. Faith allows us to believe that
the invisible God can do what is physically impossible. In that sense,
faith is built and grows on a spiritual plane, not a physical or scientific
one. But that doesn't mean observation, science and rational thinking
aren't part of how we come to believe in our miraculous Creator God in
the first place. In fact, there is no contradiction or conflict between
godly faith and true science. After all, since God is the Creator of everything,
science is the study of God's creation.
Is our belief in God based on a rational foundation?
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly
seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal
power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse...
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test all things; hold fast what is good.
God's way is rational, and He wants us to test it out and prove that
it works. But there is more to faith than what we process in our rational
brains. There is a spiritual and emotional component that is a gift from
God and grows as our relationship with God grows.
Who is the source of faith?
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
As we saw in the last lesson, our relationship with God starts with God.
He calls us and opens our minds to understanding and believing. That initial
seed of faith is a gift of God and, as we will see in a future lesson,
faith is also a fruit that comes through using God's Holy Spirit.
What can we do if we don't have enough faith?
Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible
to him who believes."
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord,
I believe; help my unbelief!"
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock,
and it will be opened to you."
Mark gives this poignant example of a father recognizing his lack of
faith and asking for God's help. God is pleased when we recognize our
own inadequacy and seek His strength and encouragement.
How do you grow in faith?
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Hearing and studying the Word of God can help us see God's faithfulness
in the past and His solid promises for the future.
Is believing in God enough?
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to
God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who
diligently seek Him.
God wants us to believe in Him. (For help in strengthening your belief
in our Creator God, see our booklet Life's
Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?) God also wants us to believe
what He says. (For more on this, see Is
the Bible True?) He wants us to diligently seek Him, which is
done through prayer, Bible study, meditation and fasting. (See these helpful
Privilege and Power of Prayer", "Learn,
Live and Love the Bible", "Meditation:
What's on Your Mind?", "Fasting:
A Spiritual Power Tool!")
What did Jesus Christ tell us to believe?
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the
gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Gospel means "good news," and the news about the return of Jesus
Christ to set up God's utopian Kingdom is the best news this troubled
world can hear! When we believe the gospel, we will be motivated to share
this good news (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20). (For more, see The
Gospel of the Kingdom.)
What did Jesus Christ tell us to do?
"If you love Me, keep My commandments."
When we believe what God says, we should do what God says. (For more,
see The Ten Commandments.)
What is dead faith?
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom
of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Just calling Jesus our Master isn't enough, and just saying we have faith
isn't enough. Our growing belief in God will motivate us to strive to
obey God—to do His will and obey His law.
What is living faith?
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show
me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my
Real, living faith motivates our actions. There is no conflict between
James and Paul, as some believe. When Paul said faith was a gift of God
(Ephesians 2:8), he continued by saying we were "created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them"
When we believe in God and believe God, what will we be motivated
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance...
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering,
not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
As we saw earlier in Mark 1:15, Jesus commanded us to repent and believe the
gospel. God's goodness leads us to this next step in turning our lives toward
God. And as John the Baptist mentioned, repentance also involves fruits, or
changes in our lives. We will cover repentance in more detail in the next lesson.
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans
10:17). One good way to grow in faith is to study the examples of faith
recorded in the Bible. The chapter "Examples
of Living Faith" from our booklet You
Can Have Living Faith leads you through a number of inspiring
biblical examples that can strengthen your faith. Please read that chapter
and read the related Bible passages.
Especially focus on God's promises of love, protection and faithfulness in Psalm
33:4; 37:28; 97:10; Proverbs 2:8; and 2 Thessalonians 3:3. Other favorite faith-strengthening
scriptures include Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:7, 13; and Hebrews 13:5-6. Write
out at least one of these scriptures and put it in your wallet or somewhere
else to keep it with you and reread occasionally
Next Lesson: Repentance—A Permanent Change of Direction
Questions about this lesson? Feedback about
You Can Have Living Faith
The Crucial Role
of Faith from the booklet The
Road to Eternal Life
and Faith from the booklet Fundamental
Beliefs of the United Church of God
and Faithfulness: Fundamental to Relationships and Responsibilities
What Is Faith?
Life's Ultimate Question: Does
Is the Bible True?
of the Kingdom
The Ten Commandments
Privilege and Power of Prayer
Live and Love the Bible
What's on Your Mind?
A Spiritual Power Tool!