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What is Faith?

What is Faith Graphic


Let’s start with the prerequisite disclaimers:

  1. This series is speaking primarily to those who proclaim Jesus Christ as lord and savior
  2. At the same time, this series may be helpful to those who have yet to make a decision
  3. The statements contained herein are as much spoken to self as they are to the reader
  4. I am far from perfect on this one

So, now that we have everything cleared up, let’s get right to it.

What is “faith”? The classic definition put forth first by a variety of resources essentially states: “complete trust or strong belief or confidence in someone or something.” Ok, makes perfect sense to me. Collectively, the second offering from the same resources defines faith as “belief in God or in the existence of God; belief in the doctrines or teachings of a religion; a system of religious beliefs.” Once again, there is not much to argue. A third option is presented that ups the proverbial ante: “allegiance to duty or a person; the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.” This solidifies faith as more than just a feeling; the inference is that some sort of action is required.

As I ponder each of these definitions, I can’t help but conclude that every human being has some level of faith at some point in their lifetimes. For some, faith manifests itself in a spiritual manner – be it belief in the one true God of all creation, dedication to some representation of deity, or strict adherence to a belief system founded in some type of doctrine or teaching. Others have faith in a person – a small child whose entire world is administered by a parent, a spouse who is lovingly devoted to their mate or a young adult who is diligently following in the steps of their mentor. Some place their faith in things – various possessions, bank accounts or careers. And there are some who feel that no one else is worthy, so they place their faith solely in themselves.

All in all, faith would appear to be an integral part of the human condition. It’s an almost universal quality inherent to everyone’s make-up, yet manifests itself in a seemingly endless variety of ways. By definition, it would seem nearly impossible to claim that faith can exist at any level less than all-encompassing. The various sources certainly point to faith as being complete, unwavering or very strong.

The definition of faith, as applied to Christianity, is quite accurate. To reiterate the most applicable definition in this context: faith is “belief in God or in the existence of God; belief in the doctrines or teachings of a religion; a system of religious beliefs.”

The rub comes in our application of that definition. Too often, our faith is lacking – it’s substandard and deficient. We don’t have high confidence in the promises of our Lord. We don’t fully adhere to the doctrines or teachings. We fall short of the more demanding descriptors of “allegiance”, “obligation” and “loyalty”.

Why is this true?

Perhaps the simplest explanation is that so many of us claim to “believe” – which is the essence of the definition – but then struggle to sustain real effort in living out those beliefs. We don’t exemplify the first definition of “complete trust and confidence” and we consistently blow it for the third definition of “allegiance and obligation”. Simply put, we segregate the “believe in God or in the existence of God” portion of the definition from the rest, practically isolating it, thereby never laying hold of the other tenants of faith such as reliance and loyalty that are mutually integrated with that statement.

Furthermore, average Christian appearances indicate that our “faith” is not only incomplete, it is also conditional. We’ll praise Him on Sunday morning when we’re gathered amongst other believers. We’ll engage in Bible discussions over coffee with other believers. We’ll encourage our children to think first to determine if their intended actions will be pleasing to God. But put us in a situation that’s outside of our spiritually safe comfort zone and we wilt. In those circumstances, our “faith” might cost us something. A relationship may become strained. A job promotion may be jeopardized. We may not like the new way in which we may be perceived. In the face of potential adversity, our faith is reduced to a simple belief, by which we fool ourselves into thinking that obligation is no longer required.

I’d dare say that virtually all Christians will respond affirmatively to this question: “Do you, just like the twelve apostles, have faith in Jesus as your lord and savior?” A hearty “amen brother!” may even be exclaimed. But if shown the following information and subsequently asked the same question again, would their responses be the same?


  1. Andrew – crucified
  2. Bartholomew – beaten then crucified
  3. James, son of Alphaeus – stoned to death
  4. James, son of Zebedee – beheaded
  5. John – exiled for his faith; died of old age
  6. Judas (not Iscariot) – stoned to death
  7. Matthew – speared to death
  8. Peter – crucified upside down
  9. Philip – crucified
  10. Simon – crucified
  11. Thomas – speared to death
  12. Matthias – stoned to death

(source: Fox’s Book of Martyrs)

The apostles certainly professed faith in the same Jesus whom we claim as lord and savior. But why did they so clearly excel at “complete trust and confidence” and “allegiance and obligation” to the point of exile or martyrdom? Why don’t we display that same level of faith?

The answer is plain, isn’t it? They had seen the Christ. They walked, talked, shared, ate, lived with Him during his time as the Son of Man. They witnessed miracles. Many of them received supernatural powers to perform miracles themselves. Some even saw the resurrected Jesus ascend into heaven.

I’ve often thought that if I had those types of experiences or direct encounters with Jesus that my faith would be unstoppable. I’d do anything, go anywhere and be everything that He commanded. How could anyone resist such compelling evidence? I’d have no choice but to be completely sold out for Him!

But that isn’t the case. Unless He returns, in this life I won’t physically walk, talk, share or eat with Him. I’m not talking about spiritual communion or hearing Him speak through scripture (irritated sarcasm implied). I won’t get to be Thomas, place my finger in the scars of His hands and side, then be so inspired by that very interaction that I spend the rest of my days spreading His gospel to the very ends of the known earth. (John 20:27-29)

So what are we to do? How can we Christians be expected to live out our faith in all aspects of the definition? Not only believing in God, but being fully committed in both dependence on Him and devotion to Him? It almost seems too much to ask, doesn’t it? What right do we have to impose such lofty expectations on each other? And to put it bluntly, what right does God have to require such things?

So, in the face of this conflict, how does one explain Rachel Joy Scott? Do you remember Rachel? Have you heard her story? Here’s a glimpse:

On April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School, America changed. Two teenage boys entered their high school with guns and homemade bombs with a plan to kill hundreds of their classmates. They murdered 12 students and 1 teacher before turning their guns on themselves. The first student to die that day was Rachel Joy Scott. She was eating lunch with a friend and was shot multiple times as they approached. The killers knew Rachel. They were in classes together. Rachel had shared her faith in Jesus with them. They mocked her saying, “Do you still believe in your God?” With a gun at her head she replied, “You know that I do.”

Rachel exhibited the same level of faith as the twelve apostles, even though she never physically walked, talked, shared or ate with Jesus. But she proclaimed her steadfast belief in God to the end.

On April 20th, 1998, one year to the day of Rachel’s murder, she wrote in her journal, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus…I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me. If I have to sacrifice everything… I will.”

What? How? I understand the apostles – they had proof. For the rest of us, including Rachel, we only have faith, we only have belief – but no proof. It’s so much harder without proof. How did she do it?

Suddenly, the definition provided the answer. Mixed within each of these same “faith” definition resources, there is a another definition that takes a bit of a different tone: “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”

This one is harder to digest, to fully grab hold and get behind. It doesn’t immediately resonate with my human nature. I am an analyst. I am data driven. My secular day job is constant fact gathering and number crunching, contemplating scenarios and developing solutions, all based on proof. But…now that I think about it for a minute, while I try to convince myself that I spend so much of my life dealing in proof, a stark reality comes to light: I deal with evidence more than proof and the results of my efforts are generally estimated outcomes. That’s a wordy way of saying that I gather as much information as possible to support a projection of what may happen. Do I generally believe those projections? Certainly. Why? Because the accumulation of facts, data and information – evidence – point to a logical conclusion. Is that proof? Not necessarily. Am I good with it? Definitely.

At first, I was irritated by that final facet of the faith definition: “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” But then I was prompted to review Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Irritation erased. It’s the same thing. As so often happens, God speaks through His word and provides clarity and understanding.

Proof is not a prerequisite for faith. What is required? Trust, belief, confidence, conviction, hope, allegiance, loyalty. If the evidence points to a logical conclusion, we can have faith.

So, how’s your faith? Are you able to live out 2 Corinthians 5:7 (“for we walk by faith, not by sight”)?

For me, like the apostles, I ask for more faith (Luke 17:5). And for those times when I struggle, I go back to His Word…

“They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘If You can? All things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.‘”-Mark 9:20-24 (NASB)

In the next installment, we’ll look at developing a real faith.


A Short on the Martyrdom of Rachel Joy Scott

“On the day of the shooting, Rachel was outside the school building having her lunch. Eric and Dylan entered the school campus and first shot Rachel. They shot her in the leg twice and shot her again in the back. They left but returned seconds later. On noticing that she was still alive, Eric walked over to Rachel and grabbed her by the hair, lifted up her head and asked her “Do you still believe in your God?” Her response was unflinching and unwavering,
”You Know I Do”, and that provoked Eric and he responded “Then go be with Him,” and shot her in the head.”

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