Faith is a foundational and fundamental biblical doctrine. It is absolutely required for salvation. None may obtain eternal life without it. But what is faith anyway? Is it just blind confidence? Or is it based on something substantial? Perhaps an example would provide the best explanation.
How was the faith of Abraham expressed? He has been called the "father of the faithful." His example should tell us what constitutes real faith. God promised Abraham that he would become a "father of many nations" (Rom. 4:17). And yet (except for the illegitimate Ishmael) he was a childless 99 and his wife Sarah was well past the child-bearing age. But Abraham did not look to the stark fact of Sarah's previous menopause, nor to his own apparent impotence. He looked only to God's promise to make him a father. "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the dead-ness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he [God] was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:19-21). There you have it: a biblical definition of faith. Paul expressed it in slightly different words to Jewish Christians: "Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen " (Heb. 11:1). The fact that God had promised was all the evidence Abraham needed! You do not need faith for something you already possess. Faith revolves around something "not seen" — something you do not yet have. Romans 8:24-25 proves the point. "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that [which] we see not, then do we with patience wait for it," wrote the Apostle Paul.
The Apostle to the Gentiles was himself an example of living faith. As a prisoner, Paul boarded a sailing ship bound for Italy. He warned the captain that the cargo and the passengers would be in jeopardy should they undertake the voyage. But, his warning went unheeded; and not long afterwards, three days of the worst type of stormy weather took away all hope that any aboard would survive. Although all the physical evidence — what they could see (the swirling tempest surrounding them) — indicated the contrary, Paul stood up and said: "... There shall be no loss of any man's life among you .... For there stood by me this night the angel of God ... saying, Fear not Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me" (Acts 27:22-25). Paul had "faith toward God" because he believed God. He had an unquestioning conviction that God would indeed do what He had promised.
The Patriarch Noah preceded Paul as an enduring example of "faith toward God." Paul summarized Noah's faith in Hebrews 11:7. "By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." Hebrews 11 is known in theological circles as "the faith chapter." And well it should be for it is filled with "faith toward God" as demonstrated in the lives of God's patriarchs, prophets, kings, judges, commoners, and even one repentant prostitute. You should read and study this inspiring chapter.
One very negative example serves to illustrate this crux point: "Faith toward God" involves simply believing what God says. Our first parents knew God existed; they knew He was their Creator; they knew He had planted the garden of Eden. They saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears things we, in this twentieth century, are simply not privileged to hear or see. God had told our primary progenitors that they would surely die if they partook of the forbidden fruit. But, Adam and Eve did not believe God. Instead, they believed Satan's lie about an immortal soul (Gen. 3:4) — and sadly, humanity has been believing it ever since. (If you have not yet seen the proof that humans do not possess immortal souls, read our free booklet on the subject. It's entitled Do You Have an Immortal Soul?) Adam and Eve had very little faith toward God, but they ironically seemed to possess a kind of perverted "faith" in the assurances of Satan the devil.
Now that we understand, by both positive and negative examples, just what faith is, we need to define its relationship to salvation. Again, faith is absolutely required for eternal salvation. Not a single person will enter God's family void of faith. In summarizing his ministry for the Ephesian elders, Paul explained how he had testified to the Jewish people and the Grecians "... repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). In order to even start the salvation process, you must have faith in Christ's blood His atoning sacrifice for your sins. Of course, you must also believe and know that God exists. "... He that cometh to God must believe that he is..." (Heb. 11:6). And you must believe that one reason God sent His Son Jesus Christ to this earth was to shed His blood in order to blot out your past sins (see John 3:16). Paul put it this way: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (Rom. 3:25). And so we must believe in Christ's sacrifice as an historical event that God applies to the repentant sinner, now, at this present time. Remember Thomas, the doubting disciple? "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). You have never seen Jesus Christ and neither have I. And yet our very salvation depends upon our firm belief' that He was an historical person; that He was a member of the Godhead; that He suffered, bled and died because of our sins; and that He rose again to live forevermore.
Belief in Christ's blood — faith in His sacrifice for past sins — involves believing what Christ said. You cannot really believe in Jesus' sacrifice without believing His message — the gospel of the Kingdom of God. On Jesus' first evangelistic tour, He said: "... Repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). (If you have not yet read our booklets What Is the True Gospel? and Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom Of God?, please do.)
Once a person has heard the | true gospel of the Kingdom of God and has acted upon it by repenting, being baptized, and receiving God's Holy Spirit as a gift (see Acts 2:38), God imparts to that individual the very faith of Jesus Christ. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it [the faith] is the gift of God," wrote the Apostle Paul (Eph. 2:8). You cannot work up this saving faith toward God. It is His gift to you upon real conversion. Notice Galatians 2:16, "... A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ...." Grasp the fact that Paul does not say, "by a man's faith in Jesus Christ" (although that is the starting point); he says, "by the faith of Jesus Christ" — which means Christ's faith.
In summary, how may you possess "faith toward God" — this saving faith of Jesus Christ? First of all, you must repent of dead works (see the preceding article). Then you must be baptized as a symbol of your faith in Christ's precious blood to blot out your past sins, burying your old self in a watery grave (see the next article). Then you will receive a portion of the very faith of Jesus Christ, which — if properly nourished — will eventually result in your ultimate salvation — eternal life in God's Kingdom.