The Nature of Faith

            Outside the Scriptures the word faith has many different meanings, but in our present study we do not need to concern ourselves with these. Within the Scriptures there are two definite, distinguishing features of faith. First, faith always originates directly in God’s Word; second, it is always directly related to God’s Word.

            Faith is one of comparatively few words actually defined in the Bible. This definition is found in Hebrews 11:1.

            Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

            This verse might also be translated: “Now faith is the ground, or confidence, of things hoped for, a sure persuasion, or conviction, concerning things not seen.”

Distinguished From Hope

            This important verse brings out various facts about faith. First of all, it indicates a distinction between faith and hope. There are two main ways in which faith differs from hope. The first is that hope is directed toward the future, but faith is established in the present. Hope is an attitude of expectancy concerning things that are yet to be, but faith is a substance – a confidence, something real and definite within us – that we possess here and now.

            The second main difference between faith and hope is that hope is anchored in the realm of the mind; faith is anchored in the realm of the heart. This is very strikingly brought out in Paul’s description of scriptural armour required by the Christian’s soldier.

            But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8).

            Notice that faith – together with love – is found in the region of the breast; that is, the region of the heart. But hope is pictured as a helmet, in the region of the head, or mind. Thus, hope is a mental attitude of expectancy concerning the future; faith is a condition of the heart, producing within us here and now something so real that it can be described by the word substance.

            In Romans Paul again directly associates the heart with the exercise of faith, or believing.

            With the heart one believes unto [literally, into]* righteousness (Rom. 10:10).

            Many people make a profession of faith in Jesus and the Bible, but their faith is only in the realm of the mind. It is an intellectual acceptance of certain facts and doctrines. This is not true, scriptural faith, and it does not produce any vital change in the lives of those who profess it.

            On the other hand, heart faith always produces a definite change in those who profess it. When associated with the heart, the verb “to believe” becomes a verb of motion. Hence Paul says, “With the heart one believes [into] righteousness” – not merely “unto righteousness,” but “into righteousness.” It is one thing to believe with the mind “unto righteousness,” merely as an abstract theory or ideal. It is quite another thing to believe with the heart “into righteousness”; that is, to believe in a way that produces a transformation of habits, character and life.

            In the words of Jesus, the verb phrase “to believe” is regularly followed by the preposition into, to express change or motion. For instance, He says:

            You believe in [literally, into] God, believe also in [literally, into] Me (John 14:1).

            This brings out the fact that the verb phrase “to believe” is associated with a process of change or motion. It is not enough to believe “in” Jesus with mere mental acceptance of the facts of His life or the truths of His teaching. We must believe “into” Jesus – we must be moved by heartfelt faith out of ourselves and into Jesus, out of our sin and into His righteousness, out of our weakness and into His power, out of our failure and into His victory, out of our limitations and into His omnipotence. This scriptural faith of the heart always produces change. It is always believing into Jesus and into righteousness; and the result is always something definite, experienced here and now, not something merely hoped for in the future.

            For this reason, in John 6:47 Jesus uses the present and not the future tense. He says, “He who believes . . . has everlasting life” – not shall have, but already has, everlasting life. Scriptural faith into Jesus produces everlasting life here and now within the believer. It is not something that we hope to have in the next world after death. It is something that we already possess, something that we already enjoy, a reality, a substance within us.

            So many people have a religion which they hope will somehow do them good when they reach the threshold of eternity. But true Bible faith gives the believer a here-and-now experience and an assurance of everlasting life already within him. His faith is a real substance within him. Because of this present faith he also has a serene hope, a sure confidence concerning the future. A hope that is based on this kind of faith will stand the test of death and eternity; but a hope that lacks this present substance of faith is mere wishful thinking, doomed to final, bitter disillusionment.

Based Solely on God’s Word

            Let us turn back now to the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1 and note one other important fact about faith.

            Faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” or a sure conviction concerning things not seen. This shows that faith deals with things not seen.

            Faith is not based on the evidence of our physical senses but on the eternal, invisible truths and realities revealed by God’s Word. Paul brings out this contrast between the objects of faith and the objects of sense perception when he says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

            Faith is here contrasted with sight. Sight, along with the other physical senses, is related to the objects of the physical world. Faith is related to the truths revealed in God’s Word. Our senses deal with things that are material, temporary and changeable. Faith deals with the revealed truths of God which are invisible, eternal and unchanging.

            If we are carnally minded, we can accept only that which our senses reveal to us. But if we are spiritually minded, our faith makes the truths of God’s Word more real than anything which our senses may reveal to us. We do not base our faith on that which we see or experience; we base our faith on God’s Word. Thereafter, that which we see or experience is the outcome of that which we have already believed. In spiritual experience sight comes after faith, not before it.

            David says:

            I would have lost heart, unless I had believed

            That I would see the goodness of the Lord

            In the land of the living (Ps. 27:13).

            David did not see first and then believe. He believed first, and then he saw. Notice also that the experience which faith produced for him was not merely something after death, in the next world, but here and now, in the land of the living.

            This same lesson is brought out in the conversation between Jesus and Martha outside the tomb of Lazarus.

            Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:39-40).

            Here Jesus makes it plain that faith consists in believing first, then seeing – not the other way around. Most carnally minded people reverse this order. They say, “I only believe in what I can see.” But this is incorrect. When we actually see a thing, we do not need to exercise faith for it. It is when we cannot see that we need to exercise faith. As Paul says, faith and sight are opposite in their nature.

            Quite often in our experience we find an apparent conflict between the evidence of our senses and the revelation of God’s Word. For instance, we may see and feel within our bodies all the evidence of physical sickness. Yet the Bible reveals that Jesus “Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matt. 8:17) and “by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

            Here is an apparent conflict. Our senses tell us we are sick. The Bible tells us we are healed. This conflict between the testimony of our senses and the testimony of God’s Word confronts us, as believers, with the possibility of two alternative reactions.

            On the one hand, we may accept the testimony of our senses and thus accept our physical sickness. In this way we become the slaves of our carnal mind. On the other hand, we may hold firmly to the testimony of God’s Word that we are healed.

            If we do this with genuine, active faith, the testimony of our senses will in due course be brought into line with the testimony of God’s Word, and we shall then be able to say we are healed, not merely on the basis of faith in God’s Word, but also on the basis of actual physical experience and the testimony of our senses.

            At this point, however, it is necessary to re-emphasize that the kind of faith that produces these results is faith in the heart, not in the mind. We must recognize that mere mental acceptance of the Bible’s statements concerning healing and health lacks the power to make them real in our physical experience. The words of Paul in Ephesians 2:8 concerning faith for salvation apply equally to faith for healing. Thus we may say:

            For by grace you have been saved [healed] through faith, and that [faith] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

            The faith that brings healing is a gift of God’s sovereign grace. It cannot be produced by any kind of mental gymnastics or psychological techniques. This kind of faith can be apprehended only by the spiritual mind. To the carnal mind it appears foolish. The carnal mind accepts the testimony of the senses in all circumstances and is thus ruled by the senses. The spiritual mind accepts the testimony of God’s Word as invariably and unchangeably true and then accepts the testimony of the senses only insofar as it agrees with the testimony of God’s Word. Thus, the attitude of the spiritual mind toward the testimony of God’s Word is summed up by David.

            I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! (Ps. 119:31).

            Concerning Your testimonies,

            I have known of old that You have founded them forever (Ps. 119:152).

            The scriptural pattern of this kind of faith is found in the experience of Abraham (see Rom. 4:17-21). Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith was directed toward God . . .

            . . . who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Rom. 4:17).

            This statement that God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” means that as soon as God has declared a thing to be true, faith immediately reckons that thing to be true, even though no evidence of its truth may be manifested to the senses.

            Thus, God called Abraham “a father of many nations,” and from that moment forward Abraham reckoned himself as being what God had called him, “a father of many nations,” even though at that time he had not even one son born to Sarah and himself.

            Abraham did not wait until he saw evidence being worked out in his physical experience before he would accept God’s statement as true. On the contrary, he accepted God’s statement as true first, and later his physical experience was brought into line with what God had declared.

            In the next verse Paul tells us that Abraham, “contrary to hope, in hope believed” (Rom. 4:18).

            This phrase “in hope believed” tells us that at this time Abraham had both faith and hope – hope concerning the future and faith in the present – and that his hope concerning the future was the outcome of his faith in the present.

            [Abraham] did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb (Rom. 4:19).

            Abraham refused to accept the testimony of his senses. The testimony of his senses undoubtedly told him that it was no longer possible for him and Sarah to have a child. But Abraham did not accept this testimony because it did not agree with what God had said. Abraham turned a deaf ear to the testimony of his senses; he refused to consider it.

            He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief . . . being fully convinced that what He [God] had promised He was also able to perform (Rom 4:20-21).

            This shows clearly the object upon which Abraham’s faith was focused: God’s promise. Thus, faith is based on the promises and statements of God’s Word and accepts the testimony of the senses only insofar as they agree with the statements of God’s Word.

            A little earlier in Romans 4 Paul calls Abraham “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11), and in the next verse he speaks of those “who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had” (v. 12).

            This shows that scriptural faith consists in acting like Abraham and in following the steps of his faith. In analysing the nature of Abraham’s faith, we have seen that there were three successive steps or stages.

    1.   Abraham accepted God’s promise as being true from the moment it was uttered.
    2.   Abraham refused to accept the testimony of his senses as long as it did not agree with the statement of God.
    3.   Because Abraham held fast to what God had promised, his physical experience and the             testimony of his senses were brought into line with the statement of God.

            Thus, the thing which he had first accepted in naked faith, contrary to the testimony of his senses, became reality in his own physical experience, confirmed by the testimony of his senses.

            By many, this attitude of accepting God’s Word as true in defiance of the testimony of our senses would be dismissed as mere foolishness or fanaticism. Yet the remarkable thing is that philosophers and psychologists of many different ages and backgrounds have agreed in declaring that the testimony of our physical senses is variable, subjective and unreliable.

            If, then, the testimony of our senses cannot be accepted by itself as true and reliable, where can we find the correct standard of truth and reality by which the testimony of the senses must be judged? To this question neither philosophy nor psychology has ever been able to offer any satisfactory answer.

            Indeed, all through the centuries, philosophers and psychologists have echoed the question asked by Pilate as he sat in his judgement hall: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). For the Christian’s believer, however, the answer is found in the words of Jesus to His Father: “Your Word is truth”
(John 17:17).

            The ultimate, unchanging standard of all truth and reality is found in God’s Word. Faith consists in hearing, believing and acting upon this truth.

     In considering the relationship between faith and our physical senses, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between true, scriptural faith on the one hand and such teachings as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science (falsely so-called) on the other hand.

            The two main points of difference are as follows: First, teachings such as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science tend to magnify and exalt the purely human element – such things as man’s mind, or reason, or willpower. Thus, these teachings are essentially man-centered. On the other hand, true, scriptural faith is essentially God-centered. It abases all that is human and magnifies only God and God’s truth and power.

            Second, teachings such as mind-over-matter or Christian’s Science are not based directly, or even mainly, upon the Word of God. Many of the things they assert and seek to make real by the exercise of the human will are not in accordance with the teaching of God’s Word. In fact, in certain respects, they are contrary to God’s Word. On the other hand, scriptural faith, by its very nature and definition, is confined within the limits of God’s Word.

            We need also to distinguish between faith and presumption. The line that divides these two is very fine, but it marks the boundary between success and disaster.

            Presumption contains an element of human arrogance and self-glorification. It is the assertion of man’s will, even if it is cloaked in spiritual language. Faith, on the other hand, is totally dependent on God, and its outworking will always glorify God. It never takes the initiative away from God.

            We come back to the words of Paul: Such faith is “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Its attitude is summed up by John the Baptist.

            A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven (John 3:27).

            Very simply stated, faith receives, and presumption grabs.

Expressed by Confession

            We come now to another important feature of scriptural faith. We have already considered the words of Paul in the first half of Romans 10:10.

            With the heart one believes to righteousness.

            In the second half of this verse, Paul adds: And with the mouth confession is made to salvation.

            Paul here brings out the direct connection between faith in the heart and confession with the mouth.

            This connection between the heart and the mouth is one of the great basic principles of Scripture. Jesus Himself says:

            For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34).

            We might express this in modern phraseology by saying: “When the heart is full, it overflows through the mouth.” It follows, therefore, that when our hearts are full of faith in Jesus, this faith will find its proper expression as we confess Jesus openly with our mouths. A faith that is held back in silence, without any open confession, is an incomplete faith which will not bring the results and the blessings that we desire.

            Paul refers to this connection between believing and speaking when he says:

            But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak (2 Cor. 4:13).             

            Note the logical connection indicated by the word therefore: “we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul here speaks about the “spirit of faith.” Mere intellectual faith in the mind may perhaps keep silent; but faith that is spiritual – faith that is in the spirit and the heart of man – must speak. It must be expressed in confession with the mouth.

            Actually, this truth follows logically from the very meaning of the word confession. The English word confession – just like the Greek word homologia of which it is a translation – means literally “saying the same as.” Thus, confession, for professing Christian’s, means that we say the same thing with our mouths as God Himself has already said in His Word. Or, more briefly, the words of our mouths agree with the Word of God.         

            Thus, confession, in this sense, is the natural expression of heart faith. We believe in our hearts what God has said in His Word – this is faith. Thereafter we naturally say the same with our mouths as we believe in our hearts – this is confession. Faith and confession center in one and the same thing – the truth of God’s Word.

            There is a revelation of Jesus in Hebrews which further emphasizes the importance of confession in relation to faith. Jesus is called “the High Priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1).

            This means that Jesus in heaven serves as our Advocate and Representative in respect of every truth of God’s Word to which we on earth confess with our mouth. But whenever we fail to confess our faith on earth, we give Jesus no opportunity to act on our behalf in heaven. By closing our lips on earth, we also close the lips of our Advocate in heaven. The extent of Jesus’s high-priestly ministry on our behalf in heaven is determined by the extent of our confession on earth.

            What, then, are the main features of faith as defined and described in the Bible?

    •   Scriptural faith is a condition of the heart, not the mind.
    •   It is in the present, not the future.
    •   It produces a positive change in our behavior and experience.
    • It is based solely on God’s Word and accepts the testimony of the senses only when this             agrees with the testimony of God’s Word.
    •   It is expressed by confession with the mouth.             

            * The Greek preposition use here is eis, which is regularly translated “into”.