by Leland M. Haines

Jesus Christ spoke about the need to believe in God, Him, and the gospel, showing that faith is important. Frequently, as the following Scriptures show, Jesus linked eternal life to faith and belief. At the start of His ministry, He said, "Believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). When a paralytic was lowered through the roof of a house in Capernaum to be healed, and "Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (2:5; cf. Luke 5:20). In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the seed was the word of God, and the seed that fell on the way side was trodden down because the devil took "away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved" (Luke 8:12). Jesus told the disciples to go out into the world with the gospel and tell people that "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Jesus told Nicodemus that "whosoever believeth in him [the Son of man, Christ] should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15; cf. vv. 16, 18). He told the Jews, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life" (5:24). In the discourse on the bread of life, Jesus said, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (6:47). At the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus told some Jews who asked Him if He was the Christ that "I told you, and ye believed not: . . . ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep" (10:25, 26). He then explained, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life" (vv. 27, 28). Jesus told Martha after Lazarus' death, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (11:25; cf. v. 26). Jesus told two of His disciples, "Believe in the light [Jesus Christ], that ye may be the children of light. . . . Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. . . . I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness" (12:36, 44, 46). At His last Passover, Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (14:1, 6). These Scriptures show that the tie between belief and eternal life had a central place in Jesus' messages.

Paul wrote often on theological issues. One of these emphasized that faith appropriates grace, and grace brings justification. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace" that we are justified (Romans 4:16), and "We have access by faith into this grace" (5:2). Paul wrote to Titus that "according to his mercy he [Christ] saved us. . . . being justified by his grace" (Titus 3:5, 7). Faith is centered on Jesus Christ; the Christian looks to Christ in faith for his deliverance. The believer's justification is not a matter of a "faith" work but solely rests on God's grace. This faith is not a work; our faith is due to grace. Luke wrote that the Ephesian brethren "believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, that "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). Thus grace becomes available to the sinner through faith and not only results in the person having a just and righteous standing before God, but influences him to live an upright life.

Justification by faith is the theme of the Book of Romans. Paul wrote, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16, 17). This last phrase translation has been influenced by Wycliffe's 1380 translation of the Latin text of Habakkuk 2:4. In Greek it literally reads "Now he who is righteous by faith shall live"1 (cf. 1:17 RSV). Paul later explained how God works to make us righteous by faith so we can have eternal life (see see 10:2-13. esp. vv. 5, 6).

At the beginning of his discussion on justification, Paul wrote, "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Romans 3:20). Under the new covenant the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law, that is, the old covenant (v. 21). Now "the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ [is] unto all and upon all them that believe" (v. 22). Man is justified, that is, declared righteous before God, by faith in Jesus Christ. Christ was sent to be the "propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins" (v. 25; cf. v. 26; 4:24, 25; 5:1). Propitiation, used in the older English versions, is the translation of the Greek term used in the Septuagint Old Testament for the mercy seat covering (Leviticus 16:13, 14). The sinner is justified by "his [Christ's] righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). It is Christ's self-offering on the cross that brings justification, not man's efforts to keep the law. Christ's righteousness makes it possible for God to be just to His own character when He bestows a righteous standing on the believing convert. The Mosaic law did not justify. "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace" that we are justified (4:16).

Justification by faith is emphasized later in Romans: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:1); "We have access by faith into this grace" (v. 2); "For Christ is the end [goal] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (10:4); "Believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, [and] thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (10:9, 10).

This theme of justification by faith also receives attention in Paul's other books. In these he emphasizes that man can again come into a right relationship with God, not by the works of the law, but by faith: "Man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law" (Galatians 2:16); they do not have their "own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9).

Paul wrote much on the theological importance of the new covenant replacing the old. By emphasizing faith in contrast to the works of the law, Paul was correcting a misunderstanding some first-century Christians with Jewish backgrounds had concerning justification. He contrasted the two terms to emphasize that the grace of God redeems man. This is brought out clearly in Ephesians 2:8, 9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Paul focuses on faith as a condition of salvation, in contrast to keeping the law, emphasizing that salvation is a gift of grace, not something to be earned. Faith becomes the means to emphasize that justification is "by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:24, 25). Paul's use of faith in contrast to the law (v. 21) shows it involves more than belief and trust; it involves commitment to Jesus Christ and the whole body of Christian truth He brought (John 1:17). To the Galatians he wrote, "Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16). We will come back to this latter after discussing another concept that brings salvation to man.

Paul tied other spiritual truths to faith. He wrote "to the faithful in Christ Jesus" at Ephesus that in Christ "we have our redemption through his blood" (Ephesians 1:1, 7) and that God has "quickened us together with Christ" (2:5). Paul wrote to the "faithful brethren in Christ" at Colosse about hearing of their faith, that they "might walk worthy of the Lord . . . being fruitful in every good work" (Colossians 1:2, 10), and that the Father "hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (v. 13). To the Galatians he wrote about "faith which worketh by love" (5:6). Concerning his Christian experience, Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (2:20). Later Paul added that Christians "receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (3:14).

What is this faith that gives man a just or righteous standing before God? Faith has several meanings: assurance or confidence in God, belief, trust. The New Testament uses faith in these senses.

The writer of Hebrews explained some of the elementary doctrines of Christ. Among them were repentance and "faith toward God" (Hebrews 6:1). Later in the book the author wrote to his readers of the need of endurance, so that after they had done the will of God, they might receive what was promised. "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith. . . . But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (10:37-39). Man must approach God in faith.

In chapter 11 the writer gives several examples of people who had a faith that produced works. This section opens with a definition of one aspect of God-pleasing faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. . . . But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:1, 3, 6

The Greek word translated substance here is translated assurance in the ASV, NASB, and RSV. Faith is the confidence or reality of things hoped for and the evidence or proof that God exists. Faith is not a blind acceptance of God's existence or Word. Faith is built upon Christian evidences, for God has given adequate reasons to assure men that Christianity is truth. Faith is an act of the mind that occurs because of the influence of grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. When man realizes his sinfulness and respects the evidence that shows God's reality, he then needs to turn to God in faith and trust that He will graciously help. This does not mean the mind is the grounds of faith. The grounds of faith are the evidences God has given in nature, in His Word, and through His Son.

The evidence God gives to man is an adequate basic for faith, so he can say, as did Paul, that "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that" Christ is able to keep me (II Timothy 1:12). John wrote that "we know that we are of God" (I John 5:19). Paul considered his worldly accomplishments as valueless in his pursuit of Christ, so "that I may know him" (Philippians 3:10). Paul pointed out to the Galatian church that there was a time when they did not know God, but now they "have known God" (Galatians 4:9). To the Ephesian church he expressed thanks when he heard of their faith, that "the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom," that they may be "enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling" (Ephesians 1:17, 18). He wrote that it was "good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour . . . to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3, 4). The grace of God was given by Jesus Christ so the Corinthians would be enriched "in all knowledge" (I Corinthians 1:5). Christians are able to know God because He gives grace and knowledge to them.

The writer of Hebrews is not giving in chapter 11 a formal definition of faith but is bringing out some of its characteristics. Hebrews 11:6 describes two ingredients of faiththat God exists, and that He will reward those who seek Him. The seeker must have faith or belief in God even though he has not seen Him. The seeker must also believe that God will judge all and reward those who diligently seek Him. If the seeker lacks these two ingredients of faith, he will make no effort to seek God's redemption. Hebrews 11 gives many illustrations of faith in action.

Another quality of faith is trust. The Greek term pistis, translated faith, means "to trust." Faith as we are considering it involves trust in God, Jesus Christ, and the Word of God. Trust is emphasised in the Old Testament, and one of its central figures, Abraham, is an outstanding example of faith and trust in God. For example, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old and still childless, God appeared to him and told him:

I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. . . . Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Genesis 17:1, 2, 4

Although it was difficult for Abraham to understand how God's promise could be fulfilled, he believed God, and God was faithful.

Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. . . . And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. Genesis 21:1-7, 12

Abraham's faith in God was tested beyond any normal experience. He had believed the Lord that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Then God told him to take his "only son Isaac, whom thou lovest," to the land of Moriah; and there offer him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). At the foot of Moriah, Abraham told two of his servants, "Abide ye here . . . and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and [we will] come again to you" (v. 5). He then went up in the mountain to offer Isaac. With complete confidence in God, Abraham bound him and laid him on the altar (Abraham expected God to raise Isaac after the sacrifice). Just as Abraham was ready to offer his son, an angel of the Lord appeared and said, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (v. 12). Paul used Abraham to show that he was justified by faith (Romans 4) and that the covenant God had made with Abraham was based on faith (Galatians 3).

Trust is not "faith" in something unknown. As Paul wrote, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him" (II Timothy 1:12). Trust is rooted in knowledge based on adequate evidence and signs (John 20:30, 31).

A second aspect of faith, that of self-surrender to God, can also be seen in Abraham. At God's first call, Abraham demonstrated his faith by leaving his country (Genesis 12:1); and throughout his life he had a family type relation to God that involved continuous self-surrender to His will. James comments, Abraham was "justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar. . . . Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" (James 2:21, 22). As Wenger wrote, "It is not sufficient to have been gloriously saved at the time of one's conversion; it is also necessary to maintain a life of holiness and obedience. This is an aspect of saving faith."2

Faith results in a life that seeks to please God and to obey the commands of Christ. Paul illustrates this in that he tried "to have always a conscience void of offence towards God" (Acts 24:16); he sought to run the race and "keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27).

Hebrews 11 is often called "the faith chapter." But since many of its examples of faith show that works followed faith, it could also be called "the works chapter." For example, the author wrote, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice" (v. 4); "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death" because "he pleased God" (v. 5); "by faith Noah. . . prepared an ark" (v. 7); "by faith Abraham . . . obeyed; and he went out. not knowing whither he went" (v. 8); "by faith Moses . . . [chose] to suffer affliction with the people of God" (vv. 24, 25).

Faith can also refer to the general body of Christian teaching or truth.3 This usage is shown in the following verses: "stablished in the faith" (Colossians 2:7); "I have kept the faith" (II Timothy 4:7); many "of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7); "them who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10); "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5); "unity of the faith" (v. 13); "some shall depart from the faith" (I Timothy 4:1); "he hath denied the faith" (5:8); "some have wandered away from the faith" (6:10 RSV); and "contend for the faith" (Jude 3). It is important to grasp this usage to avoid the danger of succumbing to "easy believism," an intellectual assent that shows no fruit or evidence of following Christ as Savior and Lord.

Reviewing the use of faith in other New Testament passages can help us better understand it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke against being anxious about life, drink, food, and clothing. He said, "If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (Matthew 6:30; cf. Luke 12:28). Christians are to have faith, trusting God for their physical needs and not becoming unnecessarily worried about such things. When the disciples faced these difficulties, they were not to worry. It seems this quality of faith was hard for them to grasp. Once when they were in a boat and a great storm arose, they became fearful. Jesus rebuked them by asking, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" (Matthew 8:23-27; cf. Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25). Again, when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and tried it himself, he began to sink. Jesus challenged Peter, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:31). Jesus also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith that the need for food for the multitudes would be supplied. "O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?" (Matthew 16:8-10). Jesus thus admonished and encouraged His disciples to trust God in everyday life.

Those who came to Jesus for healing often expressed explicit faith (trust). The centurion who came to Jesus to have his servant healed knew and trusted that if Jesus would "speak the word only," the servant would be healed. Jesus remarked, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matthew 8:8-10; cf. Luke 7:7-9). Another expression of faith in Jesus may be seen in the bringing of the paralytic on a bed to be healed. "Jesus seeing their faith" healed him (Matthew 9:2; cf. Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20). The woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years had such faith. She said, "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole." She did touch, and Jesus then turned to her saying, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole" (Matthew 9:20-22; cf. Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). These seekers had heard of the miracles Jesus did and knew He could help them. They put their faith into action by asking for the Lord's help.

The verb believe and the noun faith are more closely related than the English spelling implies. In Greek the verb pisteuo is a cognate of the noun pistis. Before the late sixteenth century, the English language used faith as a noun and as a verb. Thus the Bible student should not think that believe and faith have different meanings. We can see the close connection of believe and faith in the following Scriptures. Jesus told the centurion, who had such great faith, "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee" (Matthew 8:13). He said to the blind men who sought help from Him, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" (9:28). They said they did, and He said, "According to your faith be it unto you" (v. 29). When the disciples marveled that the fig tree had withered because of Jesus' word, He told them, "Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:22-24; cf. Matthew 21:18-22).

So faith is frequently used in the Bible to express trust and often is equivalent to "believe." Faith also expresses the means by which salvation becomes available to man. When Jesus began His ministry, He came preaching, "The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Later during His ministry, Jesus told the woman "which was a sinner" that it was her faith that had saved her (Luke 7:36-50).

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said, "The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved" (Luke 8:11, 12). Those who respond to the seed of the Word and believe will be saved. Those who believe for awhile and in the "time of temptation fall away" (v. 13) or those who are "choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection" (v. 14), will not be saved (cf. Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20). Faith (belief) is essential for salvation.

The fourth Gospel does not use the noun faith but the verb believe. In the statement of the theme John wrote, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12, 13). At the close of his Gospel, John wrote, "Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (20:30, 31).

John used the term believe to describe the means by which man obtains eternal life. This theme of "believing" is not something John developed but is based on Jesus' own words. Jesus said, "So must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14, 15). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (5:24). "This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:40).

When John wrote of God's purpose for sending Jesus into the world, he connected belief with the carrying out of this purpose:

God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18

In summary, saving Christian faith is believing and accepting that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord. It is trusting in Him and accepting His teachings. Thus salvation is both an immediate possession and a growth and learning process. Sincere faith (I Timothy 1:5 NKJV) is more than intellectual assent to Christianity based on one's cultural and educational heritage-redeeming faith is a deep-seated belief that moves one's innermost being to please God. Faith is centered in man's heart and mind: "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10). Faith is a strong conviction and belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit-and the revelation that is inspired of the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:21; II Timothy 3:16). Faith is not an isolated act of belief that saves a person by itself without creating an interest and desire to learn about Christian doctrine and practice.

Since there are warnings about false prophets and about brethren falling away, it is important to know whether one has real faith. The main evidence of faith is that it appropriates grace in the sinner because we are "justified by his grace . . . received by faith" (Romans 3:24, 25 RSV). Grace is attested to by the indwelling witness and work of the Holy Spirit (8:9, 10, 16; I John 3:24; 4:13) and by growth and obedience in the believer's life (I John 2:3, 5; 3:10, 14, 18, 19; 4:7 5:2). If there is no evidence of grace, there is no faith. "Faith" that does not affect one's life and walk is not saving faith. Saving faith will be accompanied by a life of reading the Bible, praying for Holy Spirit illumination, and seeking to obey all the light one receives from the Word.

1 J. C. Wenger, The Way to a New Life, Scottdale, Penn.: Herald Press, 1977, p. 22.
2 Wenger, Introduction to Theology, op. cit., p. 274.
3 Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988, I:761.

from Redemption Realized Through Christ, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.


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June 22, 2000