Sometimes it's hard to put a handle on something like faith. It seems so elusive to most of us. We try to talk ourselves into believing something, or we go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to feel a certain way about our problems. But how does the Bible define faith? And what does faith have to do with your daily life?
The classic definition of faith is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (RSV throughout article). Paraphrased in more modern English, faith is having confidence you will receive something you hope for. But Hebrews 6 gives an even better idea of what faith really is, clearly showing that it is belief in a promise made by God This chapter states that "when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you'" (verses 13, 14). Here God says: "Abraham, I am going to give this to you. This is what you will receive." Thus He bound Himself to certain conditions. Note that He had not already given anything to Abraham, but He bound Himself to do so in the future. The passage continues: "And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us" (verses 15-18). In other words, God gave an ultimate token of His sincerity, honesty and intent to perform what He had promised. God is able to go even above and beyond the greatest oath that man can muster in confirming His promise, or attesting to the veracity of what He says.
Faith and Christian Living
Notice a very important part of this statement: it is impossible for God to prove false, or lie. Now that is an integral part of faith — simply believing that God will not lie to you. If a person holds that belief and understands it deeply, he will have faith toward God. If you believe that God will not lie, then you have the ground, the foundation, for the kind of faith that God wants you to have. God is the one Being on whom you can count; the Being who will always say and do what is right. And the degree to which you believe that will strongly determine the way you live. Here's an illustration: Say I told you if you walked out on the freeway in rush-hour traffic and darted in front of an eighteen-wheeler, the chances are you'd get smashed flat as a postage stamp. Would you believe me? If you did believe me, wouldn't that belief influence your conduct in terms of the freeway? Now a child might not believe me. He might not understand, or think I didn't know what I was talking about. He might be tempted to go out and play on the freeway. But if he did, he'd be courting disaster. It's the same with anything God tells us. If we firmly believe that God doesn't lie, and that every word that proceeds out of His mouth is true, then it will have a tremendous impact on the way we live — on our daily conduct. Now God says He knows how to live forever — He's got the secret and He can pull it off. He's doing it already, and always has been. He sent Jesus Christ to show that it's possible for human beings to cross the chasm between mortality and immortality, and He promises that immortality to every one of us who believes Him and acts accordingly. Consider Christ's example of faith; how He gave up eternal life to become a human being and die for all of us. He put Himself in quite a position. What if He had felt a bit of doubt? What if there had been animosity between Him and God the Father? But Christ knew that God was not lying to Him. He knew that even though He were to die and have no ability to resurrect Himself, He could trust His Father to keep His word. He knew that the Father really loved Him and would certainly resurrect Him. God the Father and Jesus Christ are so honest, so pure and so right in their ways, motives, and conduct that they were able to absolutely believe one another. They had a very special kind of relationship. Christ knew that the Father was able to see Him through the whole experience, so He became subject to death, endured many temptations, and died in faith — believing without a doubt that God the Father would resurrect Him from death. Thoughts of distrust, trickery, jealousy and envy go through the minds of human beings at times — but God is not that way. He cannot and will not sin because He has set Himself not to (see Titus 1:2; I John 3:9). And we have proof of the absolute purity and sincerity of His word and His intentions: He gave up His life as Creator of the universe, staking it on the word of another member of the God family, so that all of us could live forever.
Believing God's Word
God's Word has a great deal to say about you, what you are and where you are going. God, who does not lie, has the capacity to grant eternal life. He knows how to give you the kind of life that He has. He not only knows how — He says He's willing to do it! Now how much do you believe that? Do you doubt that God would do it? Many times we want God to prove things to us. We're like Gideon. Before we go into battle as God has commanded, we want to see the fleece on the ground in the morning with the proper degree of dampness. (Read Judges 6-8 for the full story of Gideon and what it took to make him believe God.) If your faith is strong, you won't doubt the fact that God does not lie. Now that's easy to say, and in some ways academically easy to understand. But you know that in practical fact, when you have dangers facing you — when you have problems that you perhaps cannot understand, like Gideon did — it's very easy to doubt. But, on the other hand, when there is reason to doubt, the measure of your faith is how much you believe God in spite of the physical circumstances around you. you can also measure your faith by the degree of doubt you feel when you read in the Bible that God is alive and does exist. The fact that He has eternal life is verified by the fact that you're here. (For a fuller discussion of this point, read our free booklet Does God Exist?) So how do you know you have faith? When your conduct, way of thinking, purpose in life, motives and intentions are in harmony with the purposes and plans of God. If your life is patterned along these lines, that says you have faith! It speaks louder than anyone can shout. You don't have to say, "I am living in the faith." What you do with your life says that, without your ever uttering a word (James 2:18). It simply boils down to believing that God does not lie. And to
God is the one Being on whom you can count; the Being who will always say and do what is right. And the degree to which you believe that will determine the way you live.
believe that God does not lie is a strong motivation.
The Mistake of Unbelief
There are examples throughout the Bible of individuals who lost faith in God, who began to doubt whether God was telling the truth. This is what happened to Adam and Eve. God told them one thing, but they had other ideas introduced into their minds by Satan the devil. They started to disbelieve what God clearly said. What Satan told them looked logical, sounded reasonable — but it was still wrong. When Eve looked at the fruit, it looked harmless; it looked good. It didn't have big warts all over it, or big green worms crawling out of it. It looked just like any other delicious, delectable fruit anywhere else in the rest of the garden. It was beautiful — nice and juicy. It had a good feel to it. So Eve probably thought to herself: "Well now, let's just back off and readdress the situation. This fruit is all right — it looks good and it smells good. I don't get shocked when I touch it..." she began reasoning that it would be all right to eat it, even though God had given a simple command not to. she just didn't believe God. Then once she had convinced Adam to eat the fruit and the deed had been done, God came down and reprimanded them both. He said in effect: "You two didn't believe me. I told you one thing; somebody else told you something else and you fell for it. Now you are going to reap the result." The rest of the story is history. In a nutshell, Adam blew it. He turned the experience into a disaster for himself and his family. And it was all due to a lack of faith. He simply stopped believing God. King Saul of ancient Israel is another classic example of unbelief. In the beginning of his reign, Saul was humble. He was basically obedient, but like many human beings who are given a certain amount of power, he began to slip. He was given definite instructions by God, but he didn't follow them. He began to develop a pattern of unbelief, of disobedience. When faced with the prospect of having his entire army desert him on the eve of battle, Saul "forced" himself to make an offering to God that could legally only be made by a priest. He did this because Samuel, God's prophet, didn't arrive in time to "ask the blessing" on this particular battle. But according to God's instructions, Saul was not supposed to make that offering under any circumstances. It was not his job. But his reasons for disobedience were logical. When Samuel caught him in the act, so to speak, Saul replied: "Look, the people were starting to scatter, and you didn't come when you said you would, and the Philistines were all ready to fight. I was in danger! These people over here with spears and swords don't mean us any good! They plan to tear my head off; they mean business. What did you expect me to do? The lives of the people were at stake — isn't that a good reason for offering something to God?" But Samuel replied: "You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you." The Bible tells us that after this Saul got in the habit of not adhering to God's instructions explicitly. A pattern began to develop in his life, a pattern of unbelief. Samuel was forced to relay this message: "For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever. But now your kingdom shall not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart..." (I Sam. 13:13-14).
Two Positive Examples
But there are others who set a much more positive example of faith. One of the most outstanding was Job. Upon Satan's instigation, God allowed Job to be stripped of everything. If any man could have begun to disbelieve God, it was Job — he had every reason to question the system, or the generally accepted idea that if you're righteous, God has to bless you. Job was a truly righteous man, yet within a short period of time all his children were killed, his cattle and crops destroyed, his body afflicted. Humanly speaking, he had every reason to reject God, but he never did! He had faith, not in the idea that God would bless him because of his good deeds, but faith that God knew what He was doing in Job's life! Job finally came to the place where he deeply felt God's greatness and overwhelming power, instead of just intellectually acknowledging God's power in the affairs of men. Job believed the word of God, and he clung to it with all he was worth in spite of all that he could see around him. Humanly speaking, he probably had ample evidence for chucking it, modifying it, reasoning around it. But he didn't. He hung in there. And when all was said and done, he obtained a great reward. Not just the restoration of his physical fortune (God gave him double what he had before), but a place in His Kingdom. Jesus Christ, of course, is the prime example of faith in the Bible. The fourth chapter of Matthew describes His temptation by Satan. Satan tried to make Him disbelieve the Word of God, and the Scripture says that it really was a temptation — not just some kind of exercise Christ went through to teach us a philosophical or religious lesson. Christ was actually tempted — tempted to disbelieve the Scripture. He was tried as a human being, but, as you read in the account, He resisted the temptation.
Do You Believe God?
The book of Hebrews says that we are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses — faithful men and women who believed God, and acted on their belief. "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." — what should we do?"... Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12: 1-2). The Bible tells us to "consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (verses 3-4). we are encouraged to believe God's promises, accept His correction, and "lift [our] drooping hands and strengthen [our] weak knees, and make straight paths for [our] feet," because God has promised us a fantastic future. We will come to "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel." With all this ahead of us, we are warned: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking" (verses 12-13, 22-25). This is what God is outlining the promises of eternal life. That is what's in front of us — not a temporary covenant or blessings that have to do with temporal life on this earth and that end with death. He is faithful to keep His word, and He promises that if you follow what He says, you'll be in His Kingdom. What about you — do you believe God? And if you do believe, what are you going to do about it?