Faith is knowing and trusting the Father’s love (1 John 4:16). It is resting in the confident assurance that God is good and he longs to be good to you.
Faith is not merely the means by which we come into union with the Lord; faith is the very flavor of our relationship. Faith is living each day in total dependency on the One who spoke the universe into existence and flung the galaxies across the heavens. Faith is knowing your heavenly Father has great dreams and good gifts for you. Faith is an invitation to smile at the storm, stride over the mountains, and live supernaturally. How boring life would be without faith.
In the original language of the New Testament, there is a family of words that are translated as faith (pistis, 4102), believe (pisteuo, 4100), trustworthy (pistikos, 4101) and faithful (pistos, 4103). Then there is another family of words that can be translated as unbelief (apistia, 570), unbelieving (apistos, 571), disbelief (apeitheia, 543), disbelieve (apeitheo, 544), and unpersuadable (apeithes, 545). All these words derive from a common word (peitho, 3982) that means to convince, win over, or persuade. Faith is being persuaded or convinced that God loves you (Acts 28:24).
Faith is not wishful thinking or some sort of spiritual currency that you trade for heavenly favors. Nor is faith something you manufacture through sheer determination. Faith is not a work of the flesh but a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).
Manmade religion preaches blind faith, but Biblical faith is based on knowing God. Faith is not a leap in the dark, it’s a walk in the light of God’s love. Consider Abram. God said go and he went (Gen. 12:1). When he got to Canaan, God said stay and he stayed. That’s faith (Heb. 11:8-9). Then God said “I will bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars,” and Abram believed God and was considered righteous for doing so (Gen 15:6). When you agree with God that’s faith. Agreeing with God makes you right with God (see entry for Rom. 3:28) and pleases God (Heb. 11:6).
Where does faith come from?
Faith stems from hope which comes from love (see entry for 1 Cor. 13:13). It’s the unfailing love of God that inspires us to trust him (see entry for 1 John 4:16; see also John 14:15, 23-24, 1 Cor. 13:7, 2 Th. 2:10, 1 Pet. 1:8, 1 John 2:3, 5, 5:2-3, 2 John 1:6). Since the love of God is revealed in Jesus Christ (John 17:26), both faith and love are found in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 1:14, 2 Tim. 1:13).
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (see entry for Rom. 10:17). We don’t get faith from hearing a good sermon; we get it from hearing about the good news of Jesus (Acts 15:7, 28:24). The gospel of grace comes prepacked with supernatural power that activates our faith and inspires us to believe (1 Cor. 2:5).
Religion says you have to faith your way into heaven, but the gospel declares, “See Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Religion says, “You need to believe,” without giving you a reason to believe, but saving faith follows facts. Because God’s word is true, you can trust him. Because Christ has been raised, your faith is worth more than gold (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Religion says you can move God with your faith, but Biblical faith is always a response to something God has said or done.
Some people like to talk about their faith and their works, but we have been justified by the faith of Christ (see entry for Gal. 2:16). Here is the biblical order; God acts and we respond. We love because he first loved us, and we believe because Christ first believed in us. He is our supplier of faith, hope, and love.
Faith is a rest
“But to the one who does not work, but believes…” (Rom. 4:5). Faith is not work but a rest (Heb. 4:3). Faith is not a verb but a noun. Faith is being persuaded that God is who he says he is, has done what he said he’s done, and will do what he has promised to do.
Abraham “was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21). Faith is being fully persuaded. When you are fully persuaded, you can rest. The issue is settled. Your mind is made up and your heart is at ease. As creatures of persuasion we are designed to operate from our convictions. Either you will be convinced that God loves you or you won’t be. If you’re not convinced, you will waver in indecision and stagger in unbelief.
When you have seen the beauty of Jesus, faith comes easily. Unbelief is the harder choice. To fold your arms and lock your jaw as the goodness of God assails you from every direction requires real commitment.
Unbelief is not passive ignorance. Unbelief is hardening your heart to the manifest goodness of God. Unbelief is cursing that which God has blessed and hating that which he loves. Unbelief is resisting the Holy Spirit and clinging to worthless idols (Acts 7:51, 14:15). In the Garden, faith asked Adam to do nothing but enjoy all that God had provided. It took unbelief to reject God’s word, suppress the truth, and eat the forbidden fruit.
If faith is a rest, unbelief is restlessness. It’s wandering in search of what God has already provided: “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who believed not. So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:18-19).
Look at how unbelief is described in the New Testament and you will find plenty of verbs or action words. Unbelief is rejecting Jesus (John 3:36) and denying the Lord (Jude 1:4). It’s thrusting away the word of God and judging yourself unworthy of life (Acts 13:46). It’s suppressing the truth (Rom. 1:18) and delighting in wickedness (2 Th. 2:12). It’s turning away (Heb. 12:25), going astray (2 Pet. 2:15), and trampling the Son of God underfoot (Heb. 10:29). And how does the Bible describe unbelievers? As evildoers and workers of iniquity (e.g., Luke 13:27).
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29). In a world of heavy burdens, Mr. Grace comes offering rest. Unbelief says, “Leave me alone, I’m busy.” But faith responds, “Rest, you say? Yes, please!”
The gospel is not an invitation to pick up tools, but to drop them (Heb. 4:10-11). It’s not a job advertisement, but a holiday. It’s not a day of work, but a day of rest. Grace declares, “It is finished, the work is done,” and faith responds, “Thank you, Jesus!” Faith is not something you must do or manufacture. Faith is resting in the restful persuasion that God is at rest and in him so are we. “Relax, everything’s going to be all right” (Jude 1:2, MSG).
Works of faith
Much confusion has come from misunderstanding the relationship between faith and works. Since Paul said we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 4:2, Gal. 2:16, Eph. 2:8-9), while James spoke of being justified by works (Jas. 2:21, 24), some have concluded that Paul and James preached different gospels. “Paul preached grace while James preached works.” Nothing could be further from the truth (see entry for Jas. 2:10). Both Paul and James used Abraham as their role model of faith (Rom. 4:16, Jas. 2:23). Both understood that we are saved and made righteous by faith alone, and without regard to anything we have done. And both spoke of works that accompany faith (1 Th. 1:3, Jas. 2:17).
We are justified by faith and not our works, but faith without works is dead and useless (Jas. 2:17, 20). What are the works of faith? The Bible identifies many examples of faith works. In the New Testament alone, there are more than 200 imperative statements linked with faith. Some of these statements exhort us to: receive Jesus (John 1:11-12, 5:43), receive the message of Jesus (John 17:8, Acts 2:41, 8:14, 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:9, 1 Thess. 2:13, Jas. 1:21), obey or heed the message or good news of Jesus (John 17:6, Rom. 6:17, 10:16) and turn to God in repentance (see entry for Acts 26:20).
Other scriptures encourage us to accept the word (Mark 4:20), confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9, 2 Tim. 2:19), call on the name of the Lord (Act 2:21, 9:21, Rom. 10:13-14, 1 Cor. 1:2), eat the bread of life (John 6:50-51), be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20), submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3), and be born again (John 3:3, 7).
But the one imperative that appears far more than any other, is the instruction to believe. We are to believe in Jesus (see entry for John 3:16), believe the good news of Jesus (Mark 1:15, 16:16), and believe what the prophets said about Jesus (Luke 24:45). As Jesus said to the doubter, “do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27).
God commands us to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23), and John wrote his gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). (The verb believe appears more than 90 times in John’s Gospel.)
If faith is the noun – the state of being persuaded that God loves you – then believing is the verb or activity that flows from that conviction. Indeed, believing in Jesus is the work of God (see entry for John 6:29). We do not believe to create faith. Rather, believing is the action that reveals our faith. “Having the same spirit of faith… we also believe” (2 Cor. 4:13).
The course of your life is not determined by what you do as much as what you believe. Just as Adam lost his life through unbelief, we receive and enjoy divine life every day by believing that Jesus is risen and we are seated with him on the throne.
Faith and grace
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Eph. 2:8). The grace of God is freely offered to all, but only those who receive grace by faith get to enjoy it (Rom. 5:2). Name any of God’s blessings, from forgiveness to healing, and chances are there is a scripture linking that blessing with faith. We receive forgiveness of sins by faith (Acts 10:43), adoption by faith (John 1:12, Gal. 3:26), and the Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:14). We are saved by faith (Luke 8:12, Acts 16:31, Rom. 1:16, 10:9-10, 1 Cor. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 1:5, 9), sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18), and are justified and made righteous by faith (Rom. 3:22, 28, 4:5, 5:1, 9:30, 10:6, Php. 3:9). We are born of God by faith (1 John 5:1) and raised up by faith (Col. 2:12). We have our hearts cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9) and gain access to God by faith (Eph. 3:12). We are healed by faith (Matt. 9:22, 29, 15:28, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Acts 3:16), shielded by faith (Eph. 6:16), and we overcome by faith (1 John 5:4-5). We experience the surpassing greatness of God’s power by faith (Eph. 1:19), and we receive eternal life by faith (John 3:15, 16, 18, 36, 5:24, 6:40, 47, 1 Tim. 1:16, 1 John 5:13).
“We also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb. 4:2). The gospel of grace is true whether you believe it or not but it won’t do you any good unless you believe it. If you don’t believe that Jesus has forgiven you, you won’t walk in his forgiveness. If you don’t believe that in Christ you are already holy and acceptable, you will feel pressure to make yourself holy and acceptable.
Faith does not compel God to forgive or sanctify you. Faith doesn’t make God do anything. So what is faith for? Faith is the means by which we draw upon the rich provision of God’s grace. Faith is the conduit through which grace flows. God has already provided everything we need for life and godly living (2 Pet. 1:3). We draw upon his supply by acknowledging every good thing that is already ours in Christ (Phm. 1:6).
“Faith is the substantiating of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1, Darby). Faith doesn’t make things real that weren’t real to begin with, but faith makes them real to you.
Your measure of faith
Since God has given every one of us a measure of faith (Rom. 12:3), it’s wrong to say “I have no faith.” Your faith may be weak like an undeveloped muscle, but you have faith none the less. You may say, as the disciples did, “Lord, increase my faith” (Luke 17:5). But you don’t need extra faith any more than you need extra arms and legs. You just need to use the faith you have (Rom. 12:6). Just as you build your muscles with use, you can grow your faith by putting it to work (2 Cor. 10:15, 2 Th. 1:3).
You can be weak in faith (Rom. 4:19, 14:1) or you can be strengthened in the faith (Acts 16:5, 1 Th. 3:2) and grow strong in faith (Rom. 4:20). You can waver in unbelief or you can be established and standing firm in your faith (1 Cor. 16:13, Col. 2:7, Tit. 1:13, 2:2, 1 Pet. 5:9). You may be lacking in faith (1 Th. 3:10) or you can build yourself up in the most holy faith (Jude 1:20) until you are rich in faith (Jas. 2:5) and full of faith (Acts 11:24).
One of the ways we strengthen our faith is by growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18). As our understanding of God’s love deepens, it strengthens our trust in him. As God gets bigger, our faith in him grows stronger.
Back to Glossary
Back to Commentary
The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got something to say? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this specific page, please use the comment form below.
- Children of God
- Eternal Security
- Grace of God
- Love of God