What is Faith?

As followers of Jesus we use the word “faith’ frequently. We encourage each other to “have faith” or to “keep the faith”. We affirm that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone. Faith is BIG for Christians. Unfortunately, we seldom stop to ask: “What is faith?”

Fortunately, Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter in the Bible devoted to helping us understand faith. First, we are given a definition. Then the definition is followed by a number of Biblical examples of people who showed faith by their actions. As we look at these accounts the question we must keep asking: What can I learn about faith from this example? Let’s look first at the definition of faith:

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Verse 1 of Hebrews 11 is the definition of faith. Faith is confidence that what we hope for will actually happen.

Some people hear this like it was something from a Disney movie; you just have to believe and things will happen. It’s the old “When you wish upon a start . . . your dreams will come true.” It is the idea that if you believe something hard enough you can make it happen. (Kind of like singing Christmas Carols in the movie Elf to generate Christmas spirit to give power to Santa’s sleigh). Faith is not wishful thinking or a “positive mental attitude”.

Faith is confidence or assurance that is a conclusion based on the available data before us. Faith puts its trust in God’s character, believes God’s promises; and then acts in accordance with these promises. Even when there are things we cannot see or verify we have assurance about those things (like grace, forgiveness, Heaven, Hell, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) because we are confident about the character of the One who tells us these things.


In order to truly understand faith you need to understand the various dimensions (or levels) of faith. These parts are: Content, Affirmation, and Commitment. Each builds on the other. All three dimensions together make up Biblical faith.

Content. The first part of faith is content. You have to know where it is that you are putting your trust. Tim Keller writes,

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not whether you have faith but where you put the faith you have, where you’re building your life, what you’re building your life on. (Tim Keller Sermon Archive)

Everyone lives by faith. The question is, “What is your faith anchored to?” Every one of us has faith in something. It may be in human ingenuity, our own personal ability, or even the government. We all have faith in something. Christians put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That faith is anchored to the fact that Jesus died and rose again proving to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

People who say they believe in (or have faith in) Jesus are often declaring that they believe He was a real person and that He did the things the Biblical witnesses tell us He did. But this is not the kind of faith the Bible requires.

Affirmation is the next step. In this stage you believe that facts apply to you and to your life. You believe that Jesus does offer forgiveness and new life to us and you believe He can even forgive you. You may even believe that He is the only One who can save you. In other words, you believe that what you believe is true (content) is relevant to your daily life.

But this is not the kind of faith the Bible is talking about either. The Bible calls us to something deeper yet.

Commitment This is what we would call “saving faith”. This is when you take what you understand and affirm, and entrust yourself to these truths. I like to say, you are willing to “bet your life” on these truths. It is reaching that point where you say I believe that Jesus was the Son of God who came to set me free from the power of sin and death and I am willing to entrust myself to Him fully. I believe that Jesus will lead me to the best life I can live and so I will follow Him fully.

You can see these dimension of faith in everyday life. You know airplanes depart airports and fly people to other destinations (content). You may believe that air travel is safe and would be a good way for you to get to your destination (affirmation). However, you reach the commitment level when you buy a ticket and actually travel on the plane.

You may believe a certain vehicle is the best value for the money (content). You may believe it would be a good car for you (affirmation). However, you show real faith when you buy that car for yourself (commitment).

So here is how it plays out when it comes to our faith in God. It is one thing to say that Jesus was the Savior, it is yet another step to believe that He can and would save you, but it is still one more step to give yourself to Him.

It is one thing to believe that God leads people and provides for them (content), it is another to believe that God can lead you and provide for you in a way that is superior to anything the world has to offer (affirmation). However, it is something else to actually rest in God’s promise and ability; to do what He says even over what you desire (commitment).

What distinguished the great men of the Bible from others is that they didn’t just believe IN God . . . they actually BELIEVED God and lived their lives on the basis of that belief.

Let’s stop here and ask a question: What level of faith are you at right now? Do you understand what is taught? Do you believe it is relevant to your life? Have you committed yourself to these truths?

We go back to our old riddle. Three frogs are on a log and two decide to jump in. How many are left on the log? The answer is three because deciding to jump and actually jumping are two different things. So, the question is: when it comes to Jesus have you actually jumped?

The exercise of faith is not a one-time event. We must exercise faith again and again. We must decide whether we believe God and whether we will trust ourselves to Him.

  • With our finances
  • In our relationships
  • As we share the faith with others
  • With our health
  • With our families
  • When facing the trials of life

Over and over we go through the process of rehearsing content, affirming that content and commitment. Each time we grow deeper and deeper in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord.

Faith Illustrated

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

This is the most foundational faith: “In the beginning God . . . “. This is the belief that there is a God who made the world and governs this world.

You should be aware that there are many who ridicule such an idea as empty headed weakness. They tell us that truly intelligent people understand that the world came into existence through a series of chance events.

However, faith that God created the world is not a leap in the dark. It does not require us to leave our senses. It is actually a decision that is based on available evidence. It is actually a very reasonable response to what science has learned.

Though it is true that no one can prove that the world was created by God, it also true that no one can prove that it was not. We must examine the evidence and come to the most reasonable conclusion. Some people start with an anti-supernatural bias. They don’t believe in anything supernatural so they have to come up with theories that explain creation naturally. We would contend that this is not only bad science (which is charged with examining evidence) it leads to some far-fetched ideas. We are told that basically, the earth and life as we know it happened by accident.

In other words, there was nothing and then was something. But, where did the something come from?

Let me commend to you a wonderful book written by Eric Metaxes called Miracles. In it Metaxes has a chapter titled, “Is Life a Miracle?’ He explains that scientists used to suggest that since there were probably millions of galaxies the odds were that one would fulfill the conditions for life. But that is not the case anymore. Metaxes writes,

As of now, fifteen years into the twenty-first century, we know of so many conditions that are absolutely necessary for a planet to support life that not only is it extremely improbable that any other planets can support life, it’s extremely improbable that our planet should support life. To speak statistically and logically, life of any kind should not exist and we shouldn’t be here. Our existence is a statistical and scientific virtual impossibility. That may certainly sound far-fetched, but it’s what the most advanced science now leads us to conclude: that the odds are stacked so dramatically against even a single planet in the universe possessing the proper environment to support life that the existence of this planet and life is an anomaly of an impossibly high order. Yet here we are, existing—and not merely existing but thinking about the idea that we exist. What are we to make of this?[1]

Metaxes goes on to relate many facts about our own earth (called the Anthropic principle). Here are a few of those facts,

  • If the earth was just a little larger gravity would cause methane and ammonia gas to remain close to the surface and make life impossible. If it was a little bit smaller water vapor would dissipate into the atmosphere and we would not survive.
  • Our proximity to Jupiter and its perfect size results in it serving as a vacuum to deflect most comets which would otherwise crash into the earth.
  • Oxygen comprises 21% of the atmosphere. If the oxygen was 25% fires would erupt. If it was 15% we would suffocate.
  • If the COlevels were greater than they are now we’d all burn up; If they were less, plants wouldn’t be able to maintain photosynthesis (producing oxygen) and we’d suffocate.
  • The moon is in exactly the right spot and the right size to make sure that the tides cleanse seawater but that the tides are not so large as to destroy coastal regions. The moon also regulates our rotational axis which regulates seasons and temperatures.

These are just a handful of the things that are perfect for life on this earth. Some might ask, If this is the only planet that has life why did God build such a great universe. Worship leader Louis Giglio suggests that the enormity of the universe may be for us to see a little of the glory of God.

With the discovery of DNA scientists have learned a little more about the complexity of human beings. One of the most famous Atheists, Anthony Flew recanted his atheism (He didn’t say he became a Christian) before he died not long ago. Why? It was because after examining the reality of DNA he concluded it was impossible for creation to have been an accident.

There are many facts out there that argue persuasively for a Creator. I encourage you to read further on this fascinating topic. But the point I am trying to make is this: even though we cannot PROVE that God created the world, we can say that the most reasonable belief is that God created the world. We look at the evidence, we listen to the teachings of both the secularist (who say we are an accident and there is no god) and the theologian who tell us that there is a God who has revealed Himself to us, and we make a reasoned decision.

We understand the content; we affirm that whether or not there is a Creator is important, and then we live our lives in the reality that there is a Creator to whom we are accountable.

Tim Keller writes,

How in the world do you think you’re going to make a decision about how to make decisions in life unless first you decide whether you’re an accident or whether you are the creation of a designer personal God? Don’t you see if you’re an accident and it all happened by accident or if God created you, it utterly affects everything else you do? You can’t make a single move without presuming one or the other. Nobody can do anything without starting one place or the other.”[2]

The book of Hebrews says faith is believing that God created the world out of nothing. The eternal one (God) created the entire universe. He is the designer. He is the Lord. He is the One who made us and the One to whom we must give an account. We believe this God reached out to the creation that ignored Him and rebelled against Him. He came to save us from ourselves.

We all have to make a choice. We must choose between chance (which requires more faith than I can ever find) and that there is a Creator. What you choose and what truth you build your life on will impact everything else.


Remember, we ended chapter 10 with a warning of judgment for those who turn away from the message of the gospel (that God has reached out to His creation and made it possible for us to know forgiveness and a new life).

The topic of faith is not just for theologians. It is an essential issue for each of us. It is the question of in what direction are you going to orient your life. The question is: will you live for God or will you live as if there is no God?

If there is no God then the biggest question is: What is the point? Who decides what is right and what is wrong? And what does it matter? We live, we die, and we rot. Those who have this mindset spend their life indulging in whatever they want because they believe it doesn’t matter anyway. Life is futile. It is a mad rush to emptiness and nothingness.

Have you ever thought about this? All the people who are working to save the world, should ask: What are we saving it for? People who work numerous hours to make more money to buy more things . . . to have them sold off for pennies on the dollar at an estate sale? What’s the point? Why bother to restrain yourself in anything if this is all there is? As this way of thinking increases, our world will become more animal-like.

On the other hand, if we believe that we were created by God; if we believe that we were created to glorify God and someday will face Him; then we need to ask another question: Why aren’t we doing what He tells us to do? Why do we continue to ignore Him?

Faith we will see in verse 6 is believing “that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” Faith, as we will see over and over again is not merely believing something. . . it is committing to it and acting on the basis of those beliefs.

So the question is this: What would you do differently if you had true faith? How would you orient your life if you REALLY believed that there is a God who made you, who sees you, and who will be the One before whom you will stand at the end of life?

Once you answer that question and take action . . . you will have begun to live by faith.

[1] Eric Metaxes Miracles: What They Are, Why they Happen and How They Can Change Your Life (New Yoirk: Penguin 2014) Chapter 4. Loc 564 Kindle

[2] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

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