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The Bible and Christians talk about faith a lot. Matthew 12:32 talks about "faith as a mustard seed" for instance.

I've heard many Christians say things like "I don't have enough faith," or "I want more faith," or "If I only had more faith." These phrases make faith sound like a tangible substance.

What is faith in the Christian context?

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closed as too broad by Flimzy, Mr. Bultitude, Nathaniel, curiousdannii, El'endia Starman Nov 18 at 6:48

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You know, I never noticed the exact meaning. +1 – Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 31 '11 at 3:46
@cloudy: Your "correction" didn't correct anything. It changed from American to British style, which we try to avoid on SE. – Flimzy Nov 18 at 9:57
@Flimzy Sorry Flimzy, I wouldn't have approved the edit if I had known you felt this way. But technically, US style guides (APA, MLA, CMS) treat question marks differently than commas and periods and put them outside the quotes in cases like this (where not an entire question is quoted). – Nathaniel Nov 18 at 13:03
@nathaniel yes, style is pretty fluid and does change over time. I don't particularly object to this particular change, but the edit should have been rejected, IMHO, for being too trivial, and only about style. – Flimzy Nov 18 at 13:44

6 Answers 6

Hebrews 11:1

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

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. NIV

Faith is tangible in a certain sense of the word in that it is tangible to me and God.

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. NIV

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So Faith is pretty important then... – leeand00 Aug 31 '11 at 4:00
Tangible? As in you can physically touch it? – Kramii Sep 19 '11 at 16:51
@kramii Not physically tangible but spiritually but tangible as in it is able to be treated as fact/evidence. – James Khoury Sep 19 '11 at 23:18

(I know my answer is similar to James Khoury's, but a longer answer is needed. Even this is not near enough, but here goes anyway...)

It is accurate, but maybe a little simplistic to say that faith is "the belief that God means what He says."

Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

At the risk of sounding too mystical or weird, faith is the assurance of things we have no other assurance of. It is the proof of things for which we have no other proof.

The bulk of Hebrews 11 gives example after example of what people have done "by faith" eventually describing the people as "men of whom the world was not worthy" (v. 38).

The implication is that faith leads people to do things that make no logical sense, yet are Right. I emphasized "Right" because I mean much more than the best or correct choice among several alternatives. I'm using "Right" to mean perfect to the degree that any deviation from that would be a failure to follow God's Will.

James is even clearer in his statement that faith always leads to action (works).

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

As you continue reading through to the end of James 2, you get to the conclusion that "faith without works is dead" (v. 26).

It is also important to note that while faith will lead us to do the things that God approves of, it is not a guarantee of anything in this life.

Hebrews 11:39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised

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+1 @jimreed Nice indepth answer i like the whole "Right according to God s will ... " statements too. – James Khoury Sep 19 '11 at 23:21

My pastor has been discussing this lately and he paraphrases the definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1 as this:

Faith is believing that God is who He says He is and will do what He has promised to do.

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This comes from Spurgeon's book "All of Grace". – Narnian Oct 8 '13 at 21:24

Consider Faith as the manifestation of a held belief.

By manifestation of a belief, take for example the statement: “I believe that the walls of this room will turn red.” I don’t mean that at some point the walls become or appear to become red (for what ever reason, including someone painting them). Instead, what I mean by ‘manifestation’ is that you go out and buy matching drapes and furniture in preparation for the walls to turn red. This is going beyond simple belief. It entails action that you take based upon that belief.

You could split faith up into two different forms:

  1. Faith that is in accordance with Word of God.

    • This form of Faith results in grace (salvation for example). Since this form of Faith is based in Truth (God’s Word), doesn’t it have an eternal aspect to it since His Word doesn’t pass away? Eph 2:8 says “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” We are given Faith as a means of grace. We are not creating or earning the grace, but are making use of the gift given to us by which we may enrich ourselves and others. It’s not our work being done, it is our participation in the gift that is being done. You can choose not to participate.
  2. Faith in anything else.

    • Faith in anything but the Word of God is in vain since it will eventually come to naught as set forth in the Word of God. Mat 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Let me point out two comprehensive lessons from the Bible demonstrating Faith in God:

  1. In the example in Matt 15 of the woman at Canaan seeking healing for her daughter who was vexed by a devil. She besought Jesus and the disciples bid that she be sent away. She persisted and Jesus Himself tells her that He was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Undeterred, she pleads. She knows with complete confidence that Jesus is able to deliver her daughter and is convinced that her persistence will be rewarded. Having thoroughly demonstrated the power of faith for all future generations, Jesus grants her request. Her request was inline with the will of God, that is to say, it was not offensive to Him. Her faith was well placed and her belief was sustained by her confidence in it as demonstrated in her endless persistence.

  2. In the example in Matt 9 of the woman with an issue of blood 12 years. Knowing in her own mind that if she were merely able to touch the hem of His garment, she would be healed. So she did and it was so. Jesus says a very revealing thing to her – “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” He might well have said, “I hereby heal you.” but instead He said “thy faith hath made thee whole.”

In both of the cases, prior to their actions, the women already had unshakable belief. Yet it wasn’t until they acted upon their beliefs that their reward (grace) was received.

Heb 11 offers many examples of faith, each accompanied by an action based upon their trust of God’s Word.

Consider the following as example of powerful faith that anyone can manifest to great advantage of the “faither”.

  • Read Luke 11, this is one of the “…Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find…” passages.

  • Then, thank God for leading you to this gift He has just placed in your hands. Pray that He allow the spirit to lead and guide you to understanding of His Word (Truth) and Strength through it.

  • In expectation of understanding His Word, begin reading it. Isn’t this a primary step to understanding it? Don’t be afraid to seek out reliable teachers/apostles, search the internet, but test their fruits against the Word of God.

    John 8:31-32 “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue(abide) in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

This works because you request AND seek understanding of God’s Word based upon a promise contained in His own Word. Don’t the results of anything that we do correspond to the motives and earnestness in which we do them. If you’re motivated by reputation among men expect to reap according to those pursuits.

Some will argue that this ‘Faith’ is a form of works which, according to scripture, will not bring salvation. But consider (as jimreed mentions in his answer):

James 2:14 “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”

This is suggesting simple belief without action. That would be like a lamp placed under a bushel that provides no light for all which are in the house to see by or like a farmer with seed which he never plants. Neither performs it’s function and may well be cast aside as unfruitful.

James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

Gene Scott describes Faith as the following (ABCs of Faith) which I think is well stated:

Faith is Action based upon a Belief and sustained by Confidence that when God says something then it is forever settled in heaven!

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Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel Nov 17 at 22:17
That's for the in depth answer. I have posted this to the "new answers to old questions" chat room to make sure it is not overlooked. Feel free to post your own answers there in the future. – ThaddeusB Nov 17 at 22:18

Faith is a species of belief. I'll list what I think the various species are (I'd argue this list is not subjective):

  • Belief based on day-to-day experience (normal belief)
  • Belief based on rigorous evidence (scientific belief)
  • Belief based on internal mental content (intuitive belief)
  • Belief based on religious texts/traditions/community/mystical experience (faith)

Most Christians make use of all of these to some degree, but a pillar of Christianity (and other religions) is that the last one is key to appropriate participation in the religion. Of course, how could it be otherwise? (It wouldn't be religion for a person if it weren't believed).

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How do you characterize the faith of the men and women in the first five books of the Bible, who lived before the biblical texts were written? – Steve Nov 18 at 5:44
@Steve It would be faith as I described it, since if they had religious beliefs they would be due to any of the three bases left from the last bullet point after you remove the word "texts". – Chelonian Nov 18 at 6:49

"Faith" is what Richard Dawkins has and expresses when he relies on the existence of other universes (the so-called "Multiverse") in order to dismiss Fine-tuning as mere selection bias, so he doesn't have to give any shrift to any teleological notion of the miracle of even our existence.

"... the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

any time one of these folks makes light of your faith, you can point out that they, too, are persons of faith.

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I see you deleted your comment prophesying this post's quick deletion ;) – curiousdannii Nov 22 at 3:44
@curiousdannii, i didn't delete it. – robert bristow-johnson Nov 22 at 3:45
in fact, this post was previously marked as "deleted" or "closed" or something. it was shaded gray. now it is not. – robert bristow-johnson Nov 22 at 3:46

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